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AT&T Appeals Connecticut Court’s U-verse Definition

8/11/2008 9:27 AM Eastern

AT&T Inc. is appealing a Connecticut federal court ruling that creates a precedent in law that defines its U-verse service as a cable product.

The telephone company filed its action Aug. 8 with the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Second District. The company wants the higher court to reverse the rulings of Judge Janet Bond Arterton, who has been adjudicating a dispute between the company and the state's Department of Public Utility Control against the state's cable operators and the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel.

In 2006, the DPUC board analyzed AT&T's Internet-protocol-delivered video service, U-verse, and opined that the service is just another data byte stream, not a cable service. Therefore, AT&T's video service was not subject to state franchising law. Those state utility regulators are the only ones to state officially that U-verse is something other than a cable service.

The operators and the OCC filed a legal challenge in U.S. District Court in Connecticut a month later, and successfully argued that U-verse is a cable service, adding that even if a court ruled it wasn't a cable product, such a determination by state utility regulators is preempted by federal law.

AT&T asked Arterton to reconsider her ruling last October, arguing that the case is now moot. While the dispute was in the courts, Connecticut passed a state franchising law that allowed AT&T to get a certificate of franchise authority, the telco pointed out, so the Arterton's ruling should not be finalized. A final ruling places the product definition in the law books.

But Arterton said that although the state law resolved franchising issues, a live issue still remained: the legal definition of U-verse. Therefore, AT&T had not met the "heavy burden" of proving the whole case was moot.

This latter ruling is what AT&T hopes to reverse with its latest filing to the appeals court.

“The ‘new’ AT&T' is looking a lot like the old AT&T, using its power to fight consumer protections and reduce competition—while wasting taxpayer dollars with frivolous appeals. Fortunately for Connecticut consumers and taxpayers, the federal courts are not being cowed,” said Paul Cianelli, president of the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, in response to the appeal.

September