AT&T sees progress in bid to compete in Kansas cable market (1 Viewer)

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TOPEKA — A cease-fire has been declared, at least in Kansas, in the national video wars between AT&T and cable television companies.

Cox Communications, one of the state’s largest cable television providers, no longer opposes Senate Bill 449, a measure providing AT&T a state franchise to compete with Kansas cable operators. Currently, these franchises are granted on a city-by-city basis.

Even the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association is no longer against the bill. Both the association and Time Warner are taking a neutral position.

“You can’t be an obstructionist when it comes to competition,” said John Frederico, the association’s lobbyist.

Colleen Jennison, a lobbyist for Cox, told the House Utilities Committee during a hearing Wednesday that when it was first introduced, the bill gave AT&T a big competitive edge over current cable providers.

However, she said changes made by the Senate, which passed the measure several weeks ago, have largely eliminated that competitive disadvantage. Cox is now supporting the bill, she said.

The amended bill “is not perfect, but it is better than it was,” Jennison said.

The Senate version allows cable companies to renegotiate their contracts with cities and obtain a state franchise when AT&T moves into their areas.

During the hearing, David Kerr, president of AT&T Kansas, said his company was planning to spend $4 billion to bring cable TV over fiber-optic strands and then over regular phone lines to homes and business in 1,500 communities nationwide over the next three years. The company has dubbed its program Project Lightspeed.

However, Kerr said it would take 30 years to deploy if his company had to negotiate a franchise agreement with each of the 1,500 cities. A statewide franchise would shorten that time considerably, he told the committee.

He said Texas passed a similar bill last year and the Indiana Legislature approved the measure last week. Missouri lawmakers also are considering a video competition bill sought by AT&T.

Kerr said cable customers in Keller, Texas, saw their bills drop 25 percent when Verizon introduced a new video service there.

He also said that his company’s project already is providing an economic benefit to Kansas. An AT&T video operations center is being built in Mission. Company officials said that 50 jobs have been created and 50 more are coming.

Mayor Laura McConwell of Mission said that not every city will receive that kind of investment.

“However, Mission does illustrate the point that the promise of new providers does not just mean lower consumer bills and new options,” she told the committee.

Opponents of the bill, which include Overland Park and the League of Kansas Municipalities, are expected to speak today.

http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/local/14108202.htm?source=rss&channel=kansascity_local
 

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