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Congressman Pushes AT&T, FCC on Cable Access Plan

Michigan Congressman John Dingell, the most senior member of the House and ranking member of the Commerce Committee, recently sent a letter to FCC Chairman William E. Kennard and AT&T Corp. Chairman C. Michael Armstrong expressing doubts over recent open-access pledges.

In the letter to Kennard, Dingell questioned the FCC's vision and competence due to its failure to publicly scrutinize or even question, the cable industry's claim that no more than one ISP could operate on a single cable system. Dingell's letter to Kennard also included a copy of the Armstrong correspondence.

Dingell said that the FCC had failed in its charter to serve public interest when Kennard handpicked industry leaders to find a way to open-up closed cable systems.

"Both the Communications Act of 1934 and the Administrative Procedures Act derive from the belief that federal agencies are required to serve the public interest, and that the public interest is best determined through open and fair processes in which all concerned parties have an opportunity to participate," Dingell said.

"In this instance, it appears that you personally handpicked a half-dozen individuals or entities and asked them to develop a means for providing consumers with cable open access," he added.

Dingell noted that the Commission delayed that billion-dollar SBC- Ameritech transaction until it gained SBC's (SBC) agreement to conditions that included an immediate and concrete commitment to broadband open access. Such conditions have never been applied to AT&T's (T) mergers with TeleCommunications, Inc., or MediaOne Goup, Inc. (UMG).

Dingell said open access to cable systems is about both competition and consumer welfare, and that the FCC had about 3-months to take definitive action on the open access issue.

"The FCC has a statutory role and duty to pursue this matter and to develop appropriate responses based on a full public record. I urge you to undertake that responsibility without further delay, and to conclude such a review by March 30, 2000, leaving sufficient time for the 106th Congress to legislate on the issue in the event such action appears warranted," Dingell said.

In the correspondence to Armstrong, Dingell asked about AT&T's newly revised open access principles, which his company detailed in a letter of intent to Kennard on December 6.

Dingell said the AT&T-Mindspring agreement raises important policy questions and concerns concerning shared access to AT&T's broadband cable systems. Dingle said that when he co-sponsored the broadband legislation bill H.R. 2420, he refrained from seeking open access on cable systems because AT&T claimed there were technological impediments to achieving shared access.

"Until recently, your company and others in the cable industry insisted that no more than one ISP could operate on a single cable system." Dingell wrote. "It now appears evident, from the principles submitted to Chairman Kennard, that at least AT&T has abandoned this technology argument, as well as a number of other technical and economic arguments used by the cable industry to oppose open access policies at all levels of government."

Dingell added that he welcomes AT&T's first step toward opening competition for high-speed cable services with other Internet service providers. However, he said thatthe principles must be considered together with the le