RealTime IT News

Pittsburgh Approves Open Access Provision

The Pittsburgh, Penn. City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to make open access a condition of its local cable franchise's license renewal.

For the first time since the battle for open access began in Portland, Ore., AT&T Cable Services has accepted the local government provision in order to renew its local cable franchise, rather than transfer ownership of a cable license.

The franchise agreement gives Pittsburgh "most-favored nation" status with regard to cable modem access provision: It requires AT&T to give unaffiliated Internet service providers nondiscriminatory access to its cable modem platform in Pittsburgh if it does so in any other locality.

According to AT&T representatives, Pittsburgh did not decide to force AT&T to open its cable-modem platform to competitive ISPs, but has reserved its rights to reconsider the provion at a later date. In turn AT&T agreed to ensure that its cable-modem customers in Pittsburgh will not be disadvantaged in relation to what AT&T provides in other cities.

James M. Mazur, AT&T Cable Services regional vice president, said the company was happy with the agreement reached in Pittsburgh.

"We are thrilled with the agreement, which will allow us to begin creating an advanced cable network for the City of Pittsburgh and its residents," Mazur said.

Mazur commended the city negotiators, saying they worked hard to hammer out the best possible agreement for the city.

"Their knowledge and commitment were outstanding. I am particularly grateful for the leadership of Councilman Dan Cohen, who provided insight and advice to the city's negotiating team as well as managing the issue in council," Masseur said.

Cohen, Pittsburgh City councilman, said the municipality was equally pleased with their agreement with AT&T.

"As a result of this long and arduous process, the City of Pittsburgh will have an asset vital to its growth in the next century, and its residents will enjoy the benefits of state-of-the-art telecommunications technology," Cohen said. "We are pleased with the agreement and look forward to AT&T's partnership relationship with the City of Pittsburgh going forward."

Dan Garfinkel, AT&T regional director of communication, said the Pittsburgh City Council's decision to approve the new 10-year cable franchise agreement with AT&T Cable Services was the result of more than a year of negotiations, which included two public hearings.

"The cable franchise agreement with the City of Pittsburgh is a complex 70-page document that includes one page concerning forced access," Garfinkel said. "Mandatory access was not the primary focus of the agreement."

Garfinkel said that the issue of forced access to AT&T cable systems would be resolved long before the City of Pittsburgh would ever consider invoking the forced access clause in the agreement.

"The city did not mandate open access," Garfinkel said. "It states that if AT&T Cable Services enters into an agreement to open access with any franchise authority in the U.S., or the FCC orders open access nationwide, or a final judgement is issued in court that we must open access, then we have 60-days to negotiate what happens in Pittsburgh."

If one of the provisions are invoked by Pittsburgh and AT&T and the city could not reach an agreement, the matter would be eventually settled in court.

Garfinkel said AT&T's decision to accept the franchise agreement is completely consistent with what the company has said before the deal was attained and the franchise agreement is not impacted by the company's exclusive contract with Excite@Home.

"Right now there are zero customers accessing the Internet through cable modems in Pittsburgh," Garfinkel said. "AT&T Cable Services is investing $40 million in the City of Pittsburgh, and $300 million in the region to deploy an