June 9, 2008 | last updated May 26, 2012 4:37 am

U-Verse Snafu | AT&T says DPUC ruling may disrupt service

AT&T warned of possible widespread disruption of its U-verse video, Internet and phone service if it is forced to obtain retroactive permission from neighboring property owners for the installation of hundreds of refrigerator-sized utility boxes that power the service.

"If people begin to object, you are going to have a situation where many of the boxes may need to be relocated," said Romona Carlow, president of AT&T Connecticut.

A large-scale relocation or alteration of AT&T's Video Ready Access Devices — referred to as V-RAD boxes — would be burdensome and expensive for the company and would interrupt services for all customers served by the altered boxes, potentially for a significant period of time, Carlow added.

AT&T is in the middle of a $336 million investment in U-verse in Connecticut to compete with cable giants Cox Communications and Comcast.

The company sent letters of notification to neighboring property owners before installing roughly 2,000 V-RAD boxes during the past year, but the state Department of Public Utility Control concluded on May 27 that the company's notice was inadequate.

The department is now requiring the company to adopt more stringent notice and consent standards — both for the boxes it plans to install and for those already in place.

In a motion seeking clarification of DPUC's ruling, AT&T said it would comply with the new notice and consent requirements going forward but balked at seeking retroactive permission.

The company raised the question of how retroactive notice would be applied to other utilities in the future. It urged the DPUC to open a new docket to create formal rules to apply to all companies that "erect or place wires, conductors, fixtures, structures or apparatus of any kind over, on or under any highway or public ground."

The DPUC said it wouldn't comment on AT&T's call to clarify notice rules for all utilities.

AT&T's Letter

Before the DPUC's ruling, AT&T was sending a letter of notification to property owners and waiting 30 days before installing the boxes. If no objections were raised during the 30-day-grace period, then installation of the U-verse boxes went forward. The company said the letter wasn't specifically required by law.

AT&T officials said that the letter told property owners that the company planned to install a "communications cabinet." It provided them contact information if they had any questions or concerns.

Prior to the DPUC ruling, AT&T contends they did not have to fulfill the notice-and-consent obligation, as required by law, because they believed it did not apply to the placement of VRAD cabinets on utility poles.

Even so, AT&T was providing property owners with a notification letter because they said "it was the right thing to do."

The DPUC struck down AT&T's argument, and is now requiring the company to provide a notice containing a fuller description of the VRAD cabinet and outlining property owner's rights to file a complaint with the DPUC.

AT&T will also have to send the notice to a larger group of "reasonably affected owners." AT&T officials are asking for a clarification of what that means.

DPUC officials said that before a property owner can provide informed consent they must be made aware of such information. "Informed consent means people have to know what it is they are consenting too," said Phil Dukes, a spokesperson for the DPUC.

Defining Consent

Whether informed consent means written consent is still unclear and needs to be determined, Dukes said. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal urged the DPUC to reject AT&T's motion. He said the DPUC has rightfully recognized AT&T's failure to obtain approval from all abutting property owners and municipalities before installing hundreds of VRAD boxes.

"The intent [of the law] is to protect important interests of Connecticut citizens whose property adjoins public rights-of-way by requiring utility companies to give them notice and receive their consent before installing an 'apparatus of any kind,'" Blumenthal said in his response.

But AT&T said the revised notice requirements so far only apply to it, not other utilities — hence the need for a new docket specifying the rules for everyone.

"You can't change the rules after the game has been played," said David Mancuso, an AT&T spokesperson. "It's a bit of political gamesmanship and an attempt to prevent AT&T from serving Connecticut customers."

In its motion, AT&T also asked the DPUC to clarify its new requirement that AT&T obtain consent of "all municipalities where equipment is placed."

AT&T argues that existing law gives the DPUC exclusive rights over the placement of utility equipment in public rights of way, and that municipal approval is not required.

"Municipalities don't have a place in the approval process," Carlow said. "That's not to say we don't want to work with them, but Connecticut law doesn't require their approval of our facilities."

Carlow said gaining approval of municipalities would be difficult and time consuming and disrupt the way many utility providers in the state do business.

"We fear 169 different laws and regulations, which would make it very difficult for us to provide our services," she said.

Reader response:

"At&t plans to construct a gigant cabinet in my front yard! I just happened to see a man outside my house with papers, a camara and a measuring device. When I went out to see what was going on he showed me the plans to construct a retaining wall and a 96 square foot cement slab on my front lawn. Then on top of that he has a picture of my house with a gigant cabinet superimposed and he tells me that I have no rights and that my front yard is public land and At&t has the right to construct this 6 x3x6 cabinit and that's just how it's going to be!! I called the city and they said that yes they just give out permits to at&t to construct these cabinits on private land because they assume that at&t has already made an agreement, and who is this individule to stand in the way of at&t's right to do business and the comunities right to have improvement!!! I am looking for a really good lawyer.'' -- Jennifer Diaz-Zamora, Change


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