Illinois County Seeks Delay on AT&T Project

Published May 1, 2006

In a decision that drives home the stakes of video franchise reform, the village of Roselle, Illinois passed an ordinance in late March halting AT&T’s broadband upgrades for 180 days while the village determines if the network additions require a separate video franchise.

The vote coincides with a coordinated push by the DuPage (County, Illinois) Mayors and Managers Conference (DMMC) to halt AT&T broadband upgrades in cities, villages, and towns within this suburban county west of Chicago until video franchise issues can be resolved.

In a memo to DuPage city officials, Mark Baloga, executive director of DMMC, recommended towns immediately pass ordinances similar to Roselle’s to halt local broadband upgrades. He further advised communities to stop granting right-of-way permits for AT&T Project Lightspeed and urged cities to adopt new ordinances that specifically address franchise questions that cover the services AT&T is proposing, even if it means delaying the onset of video competition.

“Although competitive services may be welcome in many communities, the salient issue here is whether these ‘cable TV-like’ services must be franchised under federal and/or Illinois requirements (including level-playing field provisions in the Illinois Overbuild Act). Further, implementation of Project Lightspeed may undermine the authority of municipalities to enforce franchise agreements with incumbent cable providers such as Comcast,” reads Baloga’s memo.

This is the first report of an organized attempt by a group of local communities to delay a major broadband initiative over franchise questions. AT&T, Verizon, and other phone companies have lent their support to initiatives to create streamlined franchise processes at the state and federal level.

Legislation to create statewide video franchise rules has passed in Texas and Indiana and is pending in Florida, Missouri, and Virginia. In Congress, the latest version of the Barton-Rush telecom reform bill (see article, page 6), would create a national video franchising mechanism.

Steven Titch ([email protected]) is senior fellow for IT and telecom policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of IT&T News.