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By Matt Wilson
Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey said Thursday that his concerns about an AT&T-backed bill in the Tennessee General Assembly that would allow state-issued TV franchises have been allayed.
"Some apprehensions some folks had, including me, have been cleared up or eliminated," he said. "We're supportive of where (AT&T is) today."
AT&T Tennessee Vice President Patsy Hazlewood came before the Hamilton County Commission at its Thursday meeting to discuss next year's legislation and vie for commission support.
Several commissioners also expressed support for the bill.
"I support this 100 percent," Commissioner Fred Skillern said.
Under the bill, AT&T and other companies would be able to gain franchises from the state to provide television service rather than having to go through local governments.
Mr. Ramsey asked Ms. Hazlewood to come back to the commission if AT&T agrees to any changes in the bill.
"Having been in the legislature, that's not always a safe position to be in," Mr. Ramsey said of his support. "It changes daily."
The Tennessee Municipal League and the Tennessee County Services Association opposed the bill during this year's legislative session. The bill's sponsors withdrew it late in the session, soon after lawmakers crafted a compromise that would have given a panel of local government officials a say in granting state franchises.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, who opposed the bill during in this year's legislative session, said he did not have a comment at this time.
"He is, however, in favor of competition and allowing the citizens of Chattanooga access to the latest technological services available," said Matt Lea, a spokesman for Mr. Littlefield.
Ms. Hazlewood said previous opposition to the bill stemmed from confusion over how counties would be paid franchise fees and whether local governments still would have control over rights-of-way. She said counties would be paid directly and would retain full authority over where service would be provided.
Carole Graves, Tennessee Municipal League communications director, said her organization has not seen what AT&T plans to submit next year.
"Based on what they submitted this year, we're still opposed to it," she said.
Ms. Graves said she remains concerned about how local governments would receive franchise fees and whether providers will be able to "cherry-pick" areas for service under a state franchise.
County Commission Chairman Bill Hullander asked that a resolution be added to next week's agenda in support of the current version of the franchising bill. He also suggested presenting a letter to the local legislative delegation in support of the bill.
Commissioners also asked Ms. Hazlewood to state AT&T's position on EPB's plan to provide television and Internet service.
Ms. Hazlewood said AT&T was not opposed to EPB's plan.
"EPB is doing what makes business sense for them," she said.
Mr. Littlefield and Mr. Ramsey have both expressed support for the EPB venture.
E-mail Matt Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org