Despite lobbying for a bill to start offering television services and compete with cable, AT&T will not say where it would offer those services if legislation were approved.
“For competitive reasons, the company does not outline those plans,” said Bob Corney, an AT&T spokesman. “But, our goal is to try to get our product to as many customers as possible as quickly as possible.”
The legislation AT&T says it needs to start offering television programming was rolled out Monday. It was a compromise bill between AT&T and the cable industry and local governments, and would create a method for a state-issued, as opposed to local, franchising for offering television programming.
That compromise bill cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday after receiving the approval of the House Commerce Committee on a voice vote.
While AT&T won’t outline where it initially intends to offer television services, the bill prescribes a timetable for the telecommunications giant.
If the compromise bill passes, AT&T would have one year to apply for a state-issued franchise.
In that franchise agreement, AT&T would have to detail which parts of Tennessee it intends to offer programming. It must offer those areas service within two years of the agreement. The agreement, however, can be altered.
Finally, AT&T would have to offer its television programming service, U-verse, to roughly 600,000 Tennessee households within 3.5 years of the franchise being inked. Of those roughly 600,000, 25 percent have to be low-income.
The ambiguity about where AT&T would offer its services is just something that comes with state-issued franchising, said Stacey Briggs, the executive director of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, which had lobbied against the bill before signing off on the compromise.
“I think that’s just the difference between the state process and the local process where local governments are losing control over where AT&T goes,” Briggs said. “So that’s just the fundamental difference.”
The cable industry uses local franchising, like Comcast in Davidson County, to offer programming.
In addition to the Commerce Committee’s endorsement, the compromise bill also got the backing of Gov. Phil Bredesen on Tuesday.
“To the extent to which it’d really help to improve competitiveness and reduce cable TV rates, I think it’d be a very good thing for the state,” Bredesen said. “I hope it passes.”
Cable rates though are not expected to fall.
Rep. Charles Curtiss (D-Sparta), one of the bill’s sponsors, cautioned that the bill would not cause cable prices to decline but may hold them in check.
During the Commerce Committee’s meeting, Rep. Steve McManus (R-Memphis) complained that AT&T officials and lobbyists said repeatedly last year that the bill would lower cable rates.
“Will somebody tell me what’s happened in the last year?” McManus said. “The consumers are looking for lower rates but now we’re going to pass a bill that does not provide lower rates perhaps.
“What’s changed? Has AT&T changed their mind?”
Curtiss said he never said last year that cable rates would be cut as a result of the legislation.
The legislation now advances to the House Budget Subcommittee.