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When the Connecticut Legislature met earlier this month, Democrats enunciated a list of issues they would tackle sometime … soon. Eminent domain. State-contracting reform. Home-heating assistance. Insurance for commercial vehicles. Not telecommunications issues. But if SBC has its way, a bill allowing for faster regulatory approval for the company’s products — vetoed by the governor last spring — will creep back onto the agenda when the Legislature reconvenes. In the words of one legislator, SBC has been applying “intense” behind-the-scenes pressure to have its dead legislation resurrected in the special session. Their lobbyists must untangle a Gordian Knot if they are to succeed. Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she will only consider the bill if she is assured no ethical clouds still surround it. Democratic legislators aren’t sure how to assuage those concerns. And SBC’s principal rival in this saga, Gemini Communications, continues to forward alleged evidence of SBC’s purported misbehavior to the governor’s office. Still, SBC Executive Director of External Affairs John Emra sounds bullish about his company’s chances. “I think not acting is having very bad consequences for the Connecticut economy, for this company, and I don’t think the Legislature wants that,” Emra said, adding that there are “still a lot of discussions” that will occur before the Legislature reconvenes. SBC claims it is hemorrhaging customers, and workers, because of new competition that doesn’t have to go through the same regulatory hurdles as the Baby Bell. The specter of laid-off constituents is enough to get any politician to listen, particularly in the New Haven area, where many SBC workers live. That dimension means that the Communications Workers of America has also brought its political muscle to bear in favor of its management’s efforts to pass a bill. When Rell vetoed the bill, she cited ethical questions — raised by Gemini attorney Jennifer Janelle of Shipman & Goodwin — about an allegedly improper consultation between legislators and Department of Public Utility Control Commissioner Jack Goldberg. “The governor would urge the Legislature to take new action on the matter in special session,” Rell spokesman David Dearborn told the Law Tribune. “If there are any lingering concerns about ethical questions, she would obviously expect them to be addressed and resolved before a new bill reaches her desk.” But Rell’s position presents two problems for SBC lobbyists trying to pass a bill. First, it is unclear which entity can answer Rell’s ethical questions. Both the Judicial Review Commission (which was consulted because Goldberg’s actions are being evaluated in the context of judicial ethics) and the reconstituted Office of State Ethics ducked. Though Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said a whistleblower complaint is “active and ongoing,” he did not provide a timeframe as to when it may be concluded. “Nobody out there can say the questions she raised have an answer,” said state Rep. Stephen A. Fontana, D-North Haven, co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, who is against calling the bill until next year. Gemini made a complaint to the Federal Communications Commission about ex parte chats between the DPUC and Federal Communications Commission staff. Rell’s office indicated that a resolution of that complaint in Goldberg’s favor would help address the governor’s ethics concern. As with the whistleblower investigation, though, no indications have been given as to when a decision on the complaint will be issued. The ethics questions came up in the context of an amendment to the regulatory bill, which would have forced SBC to sell its unused coaxial cable network. Gemini had been trying to force SBC to lease that network for years, and the DPUC had ruled in Gemini’s favor. That led SBC to file an appeal with the FCC, which is pending. Selling the coaxial network was the brainchild of state Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, in a bid to make the telecom market more competitive. The Energy and Technology Committee co-chair said that the amendment would be a tradeoff for giving SBC greater regulatory freedom in the underlying bill. Rell has said she would sign the underlying bill, if it didn’t include the amendment that caused the ethical questions. That won’t happen, because Fonfara still maintains the coaxial cable should be unloaded in the name of a competitive market. Thus Fonfara said he will not run an SBC-friendly bill unless it contains some provision to benefit SBC’s competitors via the coaxial cable sell-off. On top of all that, Fonfara’s House co-chair, Fontana, said he doesn’t want to run a bill without the amendment, because doing so would imply the legislators did something wrong with Goldberg. Fontana said they did nothing wrong. Those conundrums suit Gemini fine. Janelle still calls the underlying bill “terrible,” arguing it will put Gemini out of business. As long as politicos cannot untangle Rell’s knot, her client appears safe.

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