AT&T to upgrade telecommunications network in S.C.

COLUMBIA -- AT&T said it will spend $250 million in South Carolina to upgrade its telecommunications network and offer residents new TV service.

But they're not ready to say when U-verse, their version of Internet protocol TV, will be available or in which parts of the state.

Telephone companies are increasingly offering cable TV with phone and Internet service to compete with traditional cable operators that bundle the products together.

AT&T's announcement of the expansion of its broadband and fiber cables network comes after South Carolina and other Southern states passed laws to make it easier for companies to provide cable service to residents.

Previously, companies had to negotiate individual franchise agreements with each county or municipality they operated in, with local governments taxing the companies up to 5 percent of their local revenues.

Now, in what proponents say is a timesaving process, a company can register once to operate statewide, with local governments agreeing to accept or deny that franchise.

In other states with competitive cable markets, there are lower prices and more attractive bundles of video, phone and Internet service, said Gregg Morton, president of AT&T South Carolina.

"You're going to see the same thing in South Carolina," he said.

Morton said that new cable service will not be offered until at least next year.

Since the law changed in 2006, 22 companies have obtained statewide franchises, according to the S.C. secretary of state's office. Some of the franchises are renewals of existing service.

Those unwilling to buy cable in the past had the option of satellite television, said Frank Ellerbe, a lawyer for the S.C. Cable Television Association and Time Warner Cable, the dominant local cable provider.