Rival Wants to Lease SNET Plant

A Hartford, Conn.-based Internet-service provider wants regulators to help it lease the dormant cable plant owned by SBC Communications Inc.'s SNET division.

Gemini Networks Inc. wants Connecticut's Department of Public Utility Control to label the former hybrid fiber-coaxial cable plant an "unbundled network element," subject to lease by competitors.

SNET built 4,000 miles of cable plant, connecting 26 Connecticut towns between Hartford and Greenwich, before deciding it was "financially unfeasible" to continue offering cable service. It wriggled out of statewide construction obligations in 2001, and paid 30,000 cable customers $50 apiece to help make the transition to direct broadcast satellite or another cable provider.

Much of SNET's HFC plant remains on poles, in disrepair. Gemini cofounder Arnold Chase said that infrastructure is taking up space, making it difficult to for new providers to enter the market.

Chase — who was a principal in Polish cable provider @Entertainment before he and his partners sold the system a few years ago — said SNET built the plant with the intent of eventually offering telephony, along with video.

"Technically, there's no reason why the network can't do what they intended to do," he said.

Gemini currently has 80 miles of plant it built in West Hartford, with the idea of expanding throughout the state to either offer bundled service or sell wholesale transport. Those hopes were dashed when venture capital dried up over the last two years.

Gemini wants a pricing hearing to determine how much SNET should be paid for the use of its plant. It also wants SNET to provide an inventory of all of its former PersonalVision plant, and to report on its condition.

SNET is balking. Vice president of external affairs Michael Phelan said the telco offered to sell the cable plant to Gemini.

"They don't want to spend the money," he said. "They'd prefer to go to [regulators] to compel us to upgrade the plant."

SNET officials also say fiber in the plant already is available for lease to competitive providers, including Gemini. The coaxial cable was only being used for video and is one-way capable only.

Two years ago, a small rival, Connecticut Telephone Co., asked regulators to compel SNET to sell the cable plant, in order to maintain cable service. But officials ruled that they could not force a sale.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has filed to intervene in the docket on Gemini's petition in an effort to promote competition, his filing said.