As consumer advocates of all stripes point to lagging U.S. broadband deployment, the city of Milwaukee is going to court to stop AT&T from rolling out the very advanced broadband services consumers want and need. As Adrian notes below, the Milwaukee Business Journal reports, the city wants to stop AT&T’s Project Lightspeed upgrade because it has no cable franchise agreement. Adding to the thread, it appears the city grinches rationale for seeking to pick the pockets of Milwaukee’s prospective AT&T customers is that data containing video programming, as opposed to e-mails or phone calls, is being transmitted over the network. AT&T’s U-verse service is not a multichannel cable television service the way franchise laws define it. It’s not legal semantics–so far authorites in Connecticut and Oklahoma have agreed with this reading. Unlike cable, IP television programming is not received at a local satellite center and aggregated down a cable hundreds of channels at one time, but, like Internet content, is downloaded in a data stream from a distant server. This model allows for innovative pricing and packaging schemes, including “a la carte” programming that many consumers want, but is not cost effective under the conventional cable model. This is just one of the many service and price options Milwaukee is delaying through its ill-thought legal action. In cities and states around the country where new providers have launched competitive video services, including AT&T’s U-verse and Verizon’s FiOS, prices drop and service improves. The city should drop its groundless lawsuit immediately and allow city residents the right to enjoy broadband services delivered from new platforms that are both innovative and cost-effective.
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.