WisBusiness: State AT&T president opposes changes in new cable law

By Brian E. Clark

For WisBusiness.com

MADISON — Scott VanderSanden, president of AT&T in Wisconsin, says his company is “absolutely” opposed to legislation introduced in the Assembly last week that would alter the 2007 Cable Competition Bill.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” VanderSanden said of the Cable Consumer Repair Bill authored by Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie.

Hebl and other critics charge that the 2007 cable bill – which moved authority over cable franchising to state from local officials – has not resulted in lower rates or  more jobs. 

But VanderSanden, who spoke at a Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon in Madison, said the 2007 legislation needs time to work. And he said his company alone has spent $1 billion in cable infrastructure and hired “hundreds” of workers in the past three years.

He said administrative rules took a year to write, so the bill has really only been in effect for six months.

“I don’t know how you can declare that something is not working in such a short time,” he said. “This is not the right time to start debating this all over again.”

Hebl’s Cable Consumer Repair Bill would give municipalities the option to fix local problems, move the state’s regulatory authority from the Department of Financial Institutions to the Public Service Commission, and reduce the length of the state cable franchise from 10 to five years.

Though VanderSanden is opposed to Hebl’s bill, he said he would like to see changes to what he calls Wisconsin’s “outdated” rules that result in charges for calls from Madison to Prairie du Chien that are four times higher than the fee for a call from Madison to the Twin Cities.

The phone company executive devoted most of his talk to the mobile wireless technology that has accelerated data, video and voice speeds, changing the telecommunications landscape.  He predicted continuing technology breakthroughs will result in doubling and tripling data transmission rates in the next few years.

VanderSanden said more than half of all the new American jobs created in 2008 were in broadband and IT. He also said $1 of every $5 ($455 billion) invested in the U.S. economy last year was in this industry.

And he predicted that telemedicine advancements would reduce hospital admissions and emergency room visits, eliminate 200 adverse “drug events,” and save more than $660 million each year in reduced health care costs.

He also said “Smart Grid” broadband technology is already reducing companies’ energy costs.

When VanderSanden began his career in 1992, he said his company had 2.2 million land lines. Now, that figure is down to 1.1 million. Meanwhile, AT&T’s customer mobile subscriber base is growing, up more than 240 percent since 2004.

While land lines will not go away any time soon – they are still considered vital by many businesses – he said consumers are moving more and more toward mobile phones.

“That trend is not going to change,” he said. “The number of land lines will keep going down. How far, we don’t know.”

Currently, he said only 25 percent of the world’s population has access to the Internet, with many of them already using it via mobile wireless. He predicted most of the remaining 75 percent will get it from mobile units.

“My kids have never had a land line,” said VanderSanden, who lives in Oregon. “And they aren’t that unusual.”

Not too many years ago, he said the first thing people did when they bought a home was to call the phone company to get a line installed.

 “Now, its television and Internet access. In many cases, the land line is an add-on,” he said.