As AT&T legislation wraps up, city may be first to see U-verse

Friday, May 2, 2008 at 4:21am

Nashvillians and residents of neighboring counties will likely have the first crack at AT&T’s television programming later this year now that legislation is close to becoming law, a lawmaker close to the telecom said.

Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), the Senate sponsor of AT&T’s legislation to start offering television programming, said Davidson County and the “doughnut counties” around Nashville would be the first areas where AT&T will offer its U-verse television services.

“Some people in the state will be able to start using U-verse by Dec. 1,” Ketron said.

In addition, Ketron said AT&T was prepared to invest more than $350 million in Tennessee.

So far, for competitive reasons, AT&T officials have not said where they would be offering U-verse if pending legislation became law.

Ketron’s pronouncement didn’t change that.

“We have not made any formal announcement at this point at all,” said AT&T spokesman Bob Corney on Thursday.

AT&T’s legislation took another significant step closer to becoming law Thursday.

Calling it a “historic day,” the state Senate approved compromise legislation that creates a state-issued franchise process, a change in how the state regulates television programming and something AT&T says it needed to get into the TV services business and compete with cable.

The House passed the bill earlier this week. It is now headed for Gov. Phil Bredesen’s signature.

“This bill will change the way the citizens of our state communicate,” Ketron said, who called the bill’s passage a “historic day in Tennessee.”

Currently, cable companies like Comcast reach franchise agreements with local governments. Before dropping opposition to the compromise bill, the cable industry lobbied hard against AT&T’s effort, saying the telecommunications giant shouldn’t have special rules created just to benefit them and should compete through existing rules.

Proponents of the legislation say it will offer Tennesseans choice in their television services and provide competition, which will ultimately benefit Volunteer State residents but may not lower cable prices.

Once the bill becomes law, AT&T will be required to apply for a state-issued franchise and offer its U-verse television service to roughly 600,000 Tennessee households within three-and-a-half years of reaching a franchise agreement.

Of those roughly 600,000 households, 25 percent must be low-income.

Requiring low-income Tennesseans to be offered AT&T television was part of the compromise.

Opponents of AT&T’s move had argued the telecommunications giant wanted to create a state-issued franchise to “cherry-pick” wealthy customers and bypass poorer ones.

To the public, the “cherry-picking” argument was mainly made through television ads aired by the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association.

Sen. Thelma Harper (D-Nashville) said she found it “insulting” that the cherry-picking argument had a racial tone to it.

“I found it a little bit insulting that some of the companies promoted the race issue because they used black folks to do it, to say, ‘well, we’re not coming to your house or we’re not coming to your community,’” Harper said. “I really think… we should focus on what the issue is. The issue is assuring that the communities across the state of Tennessee will have access to everything that everybody else has.”

The compromise legislation provides incentives for AT&T and other state-issued franchise holders to offer broadband Internet to rural areas of Tennessee. Access to high-speed Internet is seen as an economic development tool for rural areas.

The state’s cable industry, with its two main members in Comcast and Charter, still plan to make “substantial and meaningful investments in Tennessee,” according to a statement.

“The cable industry, including Comcast and Charter, stood firm to make sure that our members were treated fairly and that AT&T and other companies were not granted advantages in the law,” said Stacey Briggs, the executive director of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association.

Bredesen has previously said he hoped the AT&T, cable legislation passes and becomes law.

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By: global_citizen on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I will be one of the first to sign up for AT&T's U-Verse, if only to show Comcast I'm not a slave to their service and I resent the dishonest rent-seeking campaign they've been on to shut out competition. It still baffles me how many people here would argue that the consumer shouldn't have the right to choose their TV and internet provider.

By: Slow56kDeath on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The legislation supposedly prevents 'cherry picking". I will believe it when I see it.BellSouth/AT&T has been cherry picking for years.I live only 10 minutes Northwest of Nashville, yet BellSouth/AT&T has refused to provide DSL ever since I have lived in the area. People have signed numerous petitions, complained to BellSouth (I have done so more times than I can remember) yet they still refuse to provide DSL to their customers who actually want it.If they do not offer DSL to my area within the next 6 months, I will file a complaint with the State Attorney General, as they obviously took great pains to insert language in the legislation saying they could not cherry pick based on 'income'. One of the faults of the legislation is that it contains language prohibiting requiring them to provide broadband service to their customers!They SHOULD be required to provide all possible services to ALL OF THEIR CUSTOMERS!Don't they want to serve their customers?So far it does not appear to be the case.So I will take a wait and see attitude here, and I will not hold my breath.

By: howelln on 12/31/69 at 6:00

AT&T are usually weasels. As much as I am not fond of comcast, I feel slightly better with them.

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 6:00

don't you have to live withing so many feet/miles or whatever of a telephone facility in order to get DSL? Doesn't sound like cherry picking if you live too far away to use the technology.

By: global_citizen on 12/31/69 at 6:00

To Slow56kDeath: Instead of Bellsouth DSL, why don't you get Comcast cable internet? Perhaps Comcast doesn't serve your area either? Why haven't you sued Comcast?

By: mccullochd on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Do you live next door to The Slowskeys?

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I like Comcast, and I have a feeling there will be very little difference between the two. but it could drive the price down,I believe both will always be about the same cost. I'm getting very good service now, so why would I switch?