War of Words Leads to Standoff Over Franchise in Jacksonville
Byline: K. C. NEEL
The war between Jacksonville, Fla., and AT&T Broadband appears to be gaining momentum. The city council voted Oct. 8 to start franchise revocation proceedings against the MSO, which, in turn, promised a long and protracted legal battle if the franchise is officially yanked.
In a press conference held the day after the council vote, AT&T SVP Ellen Filipiak said the MSO has owned up to its problems and negotiated in good faith with the city to settle their differences. But Jacksonville mayor John Delaney maintains AT&T reneged on several of its promises.
“They promised us they wouldn’t raise rates and they did,” he said. “They misrepresented the state of their upgrade. And they want us to dismantle the class action suit that would take away customers’ chance of getting any retribution for AT&T’s poor service. They are not bad people, but it’s a bad culture.”
AT&T claims the city has been inconsistent in its demands. The MSO agreed to give its 250,000 Jacksonville customers $7 in rebates. But earlier this month council president Jerry Holland determined the money should be used for public works projects including new fire engines and computers for schools.
The biggest issue affecting the settlement, according to both sides, is the pending national class action lawsuit filed by several local residents against the MSO. AT&T wants to use any settlement to show the suit has no merit. But Delaney refused to sign off on the provision.
He also says Comcast hasn’t helped in the negotiations. “They came in and basically said, ‘If you don’t settle, we may not be as nice as AT&T has been.'”
Both sides publicly say they want to settle, but neither the city nor AT&T appears to be willing to back down.
Separately, AT&T Broadband gave notice to 675 employees at its Denver headquarters that they will be out of work as soon as the merger closes by year-end. An additional 1,025 Denver staffers will be cut during the transition to the merged AT&T Comcat’s new base in Philadelphia. Earlier this year, 500 Denver-based employees were pink-slipped as AT&T Broadband moved more operational authority to the field.
THE NEXT QUESTION:
*If the city and MSO are able to come to terms, can AT&T successfully operate in the city long-term or will Comcast decide to sell the troubled operation to someone else?
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