by Fiona Morgan
When AT&T announced last month that its U-verse TV service was available in Charlotte, we wondered when it would come to the Triangle. We asked, but they wouldn't say. "Our competitors would love to know that," an AT&T spokesperson said.
Now the company announces service in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary and Garner -- but they still won't say where in those places.
All this secret-keeping has been getting on the nerves of some state legislators who'd like to get a clear picture of exactly where high-speed Internet is available -- and not available -- in North Carolina. To get the service out to those who don't have it, it helps to find out where they are. U-verse's TV signal is sent via Internet Protocol, and Internet service is part of the U-verse bundle.
Rep. Bill Faison, who chairs the House Select Committee on High-Speed Internet Access in Rural Areas, has been asking the telecom and cable companies to agree to some terms under which it would disclose that highly guarded information to the e-NC Authority, a statewide non-profit agency created by the General Assembly in 2000 to expand access to the 'Net.
For months, cable and telecom lobbyists have been putting up resistance. But when Faison's committee meets this Thursday, they're expected to sing a different tune. Industry representatives have recently indicated they'd be willing to disclose the information through Connected Nation, a nation-wide non-profit whose stated mission is to "expand access to and use of broadband Internet" -- kind of like e-NC.
So why bring in Connected Nation to do the very same work another state-funded group is attempting to do?
One explanation could be Connected Nation's ties to the telecommunications industry, which go back to its founding as Connect Kentucky, according to an investigative report blogged by Art Brodsky, communications director for the digital advocacy group Public Knowledge, in January 2008:
[Sources say] Connect Kentucky is nothing more than a sales force and front group for AT&T paid for by the telecommunications industry and by state and federal governments that has achieved far more in publicity than it has in actual accomplishment. Connect helps to promote AT&T services, while lobbying at the state capitol for the deregulation legislation the telephone company wants.
We'll be eager to hear the industry explain to Faison's committee why they're bringing Connected Nation into the picture.