Open Access Proceeding in Portland
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The national debate about open access to cable networks debate began on Dec. 17, 1998. The City of Portland and Multnomah County in conjunction with the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, voted to approve its local cable license transfer from TCI to AT&T Corp., provided that AT&T (T) grant nondiscriminatory access to its cable modem platform.
Late in May 1999, U.S. District Judge Owen Panner upheld the local government's ruling and instructed AT&T to comply with the order. The court rejected AT&T's argument that federal law prohibits city and county officials from forcing the company to open its cable network facilities to competing Internet service providers.
AT&T contested the district court order and appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court for relief. Oral arguments were heard on the case Nov. 1, 1999.
But, something interesting is happening in Portland while and the cable industry waits to hear the decision from the Ninth Circuit Court. Open market competition to provide high-speed Internet services is in the process of coming to Portland.
Erik Sten, Portland city commissioner said, his worst fear was that AT&T would make good on its threat to deploy broadband cable access to Portland. Rather than delaying deployment of broadband services, Portland's open access mandate motivated AT&T's competitors to request outbuilding the areas high-speed network.
"Originally, I feared that AT&T would hold the city hostage and Portland would have sub-standard broadband cable services," Sten said. "Instead, because we opened the cable market, new companies are coming to town with private financing."
Sten predicts that in one year, Portland will have a world class broadband network and consumers will have their choice of high-speed access providers.
"With four cable license requests to overbuild the Portland network, I predict that one year from now Portland will have greater broadband competition and citizens will have greater choice than municipalities that decided not to issue local open access orders," Sten said.
Michael Steinkirchner, WideOpenWest vice-president of marketing, agreed with Commissioner Sten's rosy outlook for Portland's high-speed access future.
"Typically it takes us one year from the date that a cable franchise is issued to bring our first customers on board," Steinkirchner said. "Based on the hearings last night, things are looking good for our approval to move forward in Portland."
WideOpenWest is in the process of building high capacity broadband fiber optic networks in Jefferson County, Colo. and the metropolitan areas of Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth, Texas. It intends to offer high-speed connections to the Internet and digital cable television services in several Western markets.
WOW is also committed to open access. Steinkirchner said discussions to offer ISPs transport over its cable systems is already underway.
Commissioner Sten said there is no way of knowing when the Ninth Circuit Court will issue a ruling on its case.