The next legal showdown between EPB and a state cable association will be fought March 7 in Nashville as the utility tries to have a lawsuit dropped and the industry moves to accelerate the legal process.
“It looks like EPB is trying to muddy the waters with procedural issues,” said Stacey B. Briggs, president of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association. “We’d like to get to the case.”
The utility filed a motion Friday asking the Davidson County Chancery Court to dismiss the cable association’s lawsuit. The trade group, meanwhile, filed a motion asking the lawsuit be speeded up and held within three months of the March 7 hearing. The hearing will deal with EPB’s request to dismiss the case.
“This lawsuit is clearly an effort by the cable association to protect market share of its member companies in the provision of cable and Internet services to Chattanooga area residents,” EPB President and CEO Harold DePriest said in a statement.
The cable association is suing to stop EPB’s effort to offer cable, high-speed Internet and telephone service to residential customers, saying EPB is illegally cross-subsidizing the telecom service with electric ratepayer funds.
“Are they trying to slow this down and push those illegal bonds through?” Ms. Briggs said.
The Davidson County Chancery Court had been expected to consider EPB’s dismissal motion on Friday, but the utility had asked to delay the hearing until March 7 after changing legal counsel.
Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC took over the case from Miller & Martin PLLC.
The judge had rejected EPB’s first motion to dismiss, and the utility had filed a second dismissal request recently.
EPB’s motion Friday added more arguments. One of them was that the telecommunications service would not be cross-subsidized and that local cable provider Comcast and not the cable association should have sued.
“We think their (TCTA) action is flawed,” said Joe Conner of Baker, Donelson. “EPB has followed all of the appropriate procedures.”
EPB decided it needed additional legal help to handle both the lawsuit and next week’s bond issue, said Aldous Crory, EPB’s vice president of legal services.
Carlos Smith of Miller & Martin is EPB’s board attorney and on Tuesday will help EPB issue $230 million in bonds to finance electric system upgrades that would serve as the telecom service’s backbone, Mr. Crory said.
“It was a decision to separate the responsibility of who does what,” Mr. Crory said.
EPB on Tuesday will obtain quotes for a $230 million bond issue to finance an electric service fiber-optic system, which will be the backbone of fiber-to-the-home. The utility’s board is to convene at 4 p.m. to approve the bond issue, then request final approval by the Chattanooga City Council. The council is to vote at 6 p.m. Tuesday on at least part of the financing.