Area city officials oppose AT&T push for video, TV service

Hank Hayes • Jan 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Officials with Tri-Cities municipal governments expressed opposition to AT&T’s legislative push for a statewide video services franchise while handing out their 2008 policy marching orders to Northeast Tennessee lawmakers Friday.

The policy document given to lawmakers during a Bristol Motor Speedway meeting stressed that Tri-Cities governments support “a level playing field and fair competition” for cable TV and video services but said the legislation AT&T wants would give the telecommunications giant an unfair competitive advantage.

“We support the provision of statewide cable franchise agreements provided that local cable franchise agreements remain controlling,” the policy document said.

State Rep. Nathan Vaughn, D-Kingsport, asked for a clarification of that statement and called it “contradictory.”

Other lawmakers said they want more competition among video providers but with local control over public rights of way, franchise fees and public access channels.

“I was lobbied about the (AT&T) bill and lobbied and lobbied,” state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said about last year’s unsuccessful attempt to pass statewide cable franchise legislation. “I told them ‘You make my cities happy and I’ll support the bill.’”

Vaughn added: “I made it clear to the (AT&T) lobbyist ... to talk to the people back home who I represent. Don’t come around then to come to me until you go to them. ... When I gave them that message, they backed off of me.”

Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips said he’d be the first to admit that cable companies could do a better job with citizens.

“But I think we have to be careful what we pass to ensure that the wealthy aren’t the only people who have cable,” Phillips said.

Tri-Cities governments also reiterated their opposition to collective bargaining for public employees — particularly federal legislation to force governments to recognize collective bargaining agreements with unions representing public safety officers.

The governments backed legislation creating an airport authority at Tri-Cities Regional Airport and road projects enhancing access to TCRA.

They supported widening a section of State Route 75 from State Route 36 to TCRA and reviving the so-called “Airport Parkway” project running from the airport to the Highway 11E-19E intersection.

Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe called that section of State Route 75 “embarrassing” and a “two-lane pig path.”

“It is clear to me that a Georgia Tech graduate did not design that,” Roe said of the highway section.

The policy document rebutted the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s assertion that there is “no urgent need” for the Airport Parkway project.

“Completion would provide vastly improved regional access to both Northeast State Community College and TCRA,” the document said.

Other needed transportation improvements, government officials said, include upgrading the Interstate 81-26 interchange and having passenger rail service between Memphis and Bristol.

Tri-Cities governments also supported raising the local-option sales tax cap on single-purchase items to $3,200, in addition to measures to provide pay supplements and fire training to volunteer and part-time firefighters.

“Only 7,730 or 21 percent of firefighters in Tennessee are full-time professional responders. The remaining 26,900 are either part time or volunteer,” the governments’ policy document pointed out. “Mandatory training is essential to ensure a professional firefighting response.”

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