Policy

Cablers, AT&T Compromise in Connecticut

3/16/2007 8:06 AM Eastern

Last year’s fight for video reform in Connecticut would have allowed new entrants in while locking incumbents into their franchises until a competitor reached 20% of towns in a franchise.

This year’s version is different: New and old providers are closer to parity on operating terms.

AT&T and the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association hashed out the compromise.

The new proposal, which cleared the state House Energy & Telecommunications Committee March 15, would let incumbent operators opt into modified state regulation immediately.

Cable incumbents entered the talks with a weak hand in the Nutmeg State. Franchising is already under state authority, so local towns aren’t up in arms fighting to retain authority. Plus, the state regulator already determined that Internet-protocol TV is not a cable service, strengthening AT&T’s hand, NECTA chief counsel Bill Durand pointed out.

Still, the bill starts the committee process with better terms than last year, for new and old providers both. The regulator gets 45 days to act on applications from new providers such as AT&T. Incumbents may apply for state franchising 30 days after a new entrant enters town. And the bill would open the franchising door for a small electrical utility, Groton Utilities, to compete against Comcast.

The bill bars build-out or specific technology requirements. Still to be determined is a gross-receipts-tax increase. That levy is currently at 5%, but the bill contemplates an increase, perhaps of a half-percentage point (to 5.5%), to help fund PEG-channel (public, educational and government) equipment upgrades. Incumbent operators could get some of the money if they currently provide PEG equipment support.

September