AT&T wants piece of local phone pie

Though the discussion was supposed to be about a cable franchise, a meeting between an AT&T Broadband executive and the Langley city council revealed last week that the telecommunications company has more than television on its mind.

Before the council on June 21 to get a consent for "change of control" for the 10-year franchise AT&T has with the city, regional AT&T manager Kathy Nelson said the company is making some changes that could increase its presence in Langley. The change of control request comes in the aftermath of a merger between AT&T Broadband and the third-largest cable provider in the nation, Comcast. The combined company is to be spun off from the main AT&T corporation.

In doing this, Nelson said, AT&T Broadband will be expected to offer a number of cable services in the Langley area and other areas it serves, services that will include cable Internet hookups and, eventually, local phone service.

Nelson said the company is more than two years into a permitting process to install an underwater fiber-optic cable under Deception Pass to give the company the wires and bandwidth it needs to provide these services.

When asked by council member Neil Colburn about how both AT&T and Whidbey Telephone Co. -- South Whidbey's current local service provider -- would compete in the South Whidbey market, Nelson said it will be some time before her company is ready to launch local phone service.

The council approved AT&T Broadband's change of control motion. In doing so, the city maintains a 10-year franchise agreement with the company that gives Langley 5 percent of AT&T's gross sales within the city limits. Last year, that percentage totaled about $12,000 in revenue for the city. The franchise agreement expires in 2007.

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