Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cable Leverage Possible City Told It May Have Upper Hand on AT&T

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cable Leverage Possible City Told It May Have Upper Hand on AT&T

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Galnor, Times-Union staff writer

Jacksonville may have more weapons in its arsenal than initially thought when it heads to the bargaining table with AT&T Broadband this summer.

Despite what the cable giant has told the city, Jacksonville may get to revisit its cable agreement to approve AT&T's planned merger with Comcast Corp., said Matt Leibowitz, a Miami-based attorney consulting for the city on cable issues.

The city is seeking tougher customer service standards, with specific penalties for not meeting the requirements, after complaints reached more than 20 times the monthly average last summer.

Leibowitz said the language in Jacksonville's cable ordinance is unclear and, in cases where there is no concrete answer, the law is in favor of local governments.

AT&T disputes Leibowitz's claim and stands by its interpretation of Jacksonville's law, spokeswoman Maureen O'Neill said. About 5,000 cities nationally will be affected by the merger, and Leibowitz said about 1,500 will have the right to approve the merger. AT&T spokeswoman Sarah Eder said the company hasn't released that figure and wouldn't discuss it.

If it has the right to approve transferring the franchise to the proposed AT&T Comcast Corp., Jacksonville would firmly hold the upper hand in negotiations. The city could refuse to transfer the franchise to the new company and would have "the opportunity of its regulatory life," Leibowitz said.

The merger hasn't yet been approved federally, though the deal is expected to be finalized late this year or in early 2003.

Either way, the city now is formalizing its wish list for June 30, when the five-year review period begins for its current agreement with AT&T. The city signed a 20-year agreement in 1997 that allows both sides to discuss changes every five years. …

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