Cable industry should ‘rot in Hell’, says AT&T supporter

Cable industry should ‘rot in Hell’, says AT&T supporter
Nashville Post
05/18/07

UPDATED 5:08 P.M.: U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson Gina Talamona confirmed late this afternoon that Assistant Attorney General Barnett recently wrote to members of the Tennessee General Assembly to express views consistent with the Wisconsin letter cited in this story. Details were not immediately available. Talamona said that in keeping with DoJ’s “competition-advocacy role,” Barnett’s communications stress concerns about barriers to competition, and are generally silent on remedial actions that might have been undertaken by the FCC and other agencies.

As originally posted:

AT&T’s latest ploy in the ongoing video franchise war this morning prompted Vanderbilt Prof. Luke Froeb to demonize the cable industry.

Froeb told NashvillePost.com, “The cable bastards are trying to protect their local monopolies. May they rot in hell. ATT is no saint, but their interests, in this case, happen to coincide with those of consumers.”

Froeb is a professor of the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt and a former official of both the Federal Trade Commission and the antitrust division of the U.S. Justice Department. He has also previously consulted for AT&T on anti-trust matters, but says he is not currently working for the telecom giant.

Froeb displayed his fervor in response to a tactic employed by AT&T today. The company flooded media with a letter from U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas O. Barnett, in which Barnett declares that new laws that provide a “state-wide franchising process” are more likely to benefit consumers than requiring franchising through cities and counties.

Though Barnett’s letter was in response to legislation in Wisconsin, AT&T Tennessee President Marty Dickens appended his comments in a dispatch sent in his behalf this morning.

Dickens said the letter “is one more clear signal that Tennessee consumers will benefit from state legislation allowing AT&T and others to compete. The cable industry and a handful of others are trying to prevent consumer choice in Tennessee by misrepresenting the facts and delaying the legislative process…”

Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association Executive Director Stacey Briggs responded: “Who cares about the opinion of one official in Wisconsin [sic] in a letter addressed to the state of Wisconsin? This is about Tennessee, where every mayor of every city, every mayor of every county, and virtually every local elected body has taken a position against AT&T’s proposal. They’re opposed because this bill would restrict access to services to consumers, strip consumer and local government protections.”

Briggs went on to repeat the argument made by TCTA and the Tennessee Municipal League, with emphasis on the fact that, in their view, AT&T can compete now, if it chose to do so under existing franchise laws. She also stressed that the Federal Communications Commission recently forbade local governments from impeding the franchise process — in her view rendering AT&T’s argument superfluous.

Froeb, meanwhile, insisted in a message to NashvillePost.com, “Tom Barnett and the Antitrust Division are doing God’s work.”

Froeb subsequently explained in an interview with NashvillePost.com that while he was with the federal government he was often called upon to render opinions on issues, as Barnett has done.

Froeb said he is “sickened” by what he sees as the manipulation of state government to preserve for the cable industry an economic advantage that is no longer fair, because lower-cost technologies have rendered illegitimate the earlier “natural monopoly” that cable enjoyed when infrastructure costs were higher and local cable franchises periodically provided a bit of competition among competing bidders.

In truth, both camps have sought to control the fate of franchise legislation this year, spending millions to field lobbyists, media spinners and others.

Froeb said that Barnett’s statement on the franchise issue “should be given an extraordinary amount of weight,” given that in his opinion only Justice and the FTC truly advocate in behalf of consumers. He added that Barnett’s letter sends state legislatures an “unambiguous message” that consumers will be better off by more competition and fewer franchise barriers.

NashvillePost.com’s query placed today to Barnett was not returned prior to deadline for this story.
http://www.nashvillepost.com/news/2007/5/18/cable_industry_should_rot_in_hell_says_att_supporter

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