NASHVILLE — Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said Monday he is “basically comfortable” with legislation that would create a statewide cable licensing process although he noted he will need to see final language before making a definite commitment.
“I know a lot of maneuvering, a lot of writing and rewriting is going on and so when I see the final bill we’ll decide,” Mr. Littlefield said. “But right now I’m basically comfortable with AT&T’s latest proposal.”
Mr. Littlefield’s comments came as he and mayors from Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville visited with House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, and Gov. Phil Bredesen on a variety of issues.
Rep. Naifeh is working to broker an agreement between AT&T and the cable industry over statewide licensing, an issue on which both sides spent millions of dollars lobbying last year.
“It’s been going well,” Rep. Naifeh said. “We’re about to get where we fill in the blanks.”
AT&T is pushing the legislation to jump-start its entry into the cable business and better compete with cable providers such as Comcast, which now offer packages of cable television, phone and Internet at a discounted package rate.
Mr. Littlefield last year expressed reservations about the legislation as did many local government officials.
But he said Monday he believes some issues cited by local governments have been resolved. He said, for example, that there is a “greater assurance that the revenue that comes to the city will be protected.”
The mayor also indicated a major factor in his thinking is the cable industry’s lawsuit against the city-owned EPB, formerly known as the Electric Power Board. EPB is planning a $219 million fiber-optic system that among other things would let EPB offer cablelike video services locally. EPB officials hope to finalize details on Feb. 19.
But the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association has filed suit against EPB, charging its plans amount to an illegal cross-subsidization of entry into cable with electric ratepayers’ funds. A Davidson County judge recently refused to dismiss the litigation.
Mr. Littlefield said local cable provider Comcast “has had an essential monopoly in the Chattanooga area for a long time and when (EPB) steps up and offers to bring us the latest technology, I think the actions of Comcast are really more self-preservation than any concern about the electric ratepayers.”
Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association Executive Director Stacey Briggs said cable is no monopoly and noted the “mayor is wise to say he will wait to see that final proposal.”
She said the EPB’s fiber-optics plans “blatantly and most outrageously” violates state law.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...