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IVI Advances Battle For Leased Access To Cable

The battle cries demanding leased access to cable networks were delivered Wednesday to the Federal Communications Commission this week by a small California-based Internet service provider.

Internet Ventures Inc. filed a petition with the FCC invoking the "must carry" clause of the 1996 Federal Communications Act. IVI contends that cable operators must carry independent Internet services on their networks under the same rules requiring cable companies to offer subscribers all local broadcast channels.

The IVI position may open up a new legal front in the battle to bring broadband cable modem access to U.S. homes, although the "must-carry" provision of the legislation has never been interpreted to apply to ISPs.

At issue is the right to deliver cable modem Internet access to U.S. homes and offices. Industry analysts concur that competitively priced broadband cable access would produce explosive growth in Internet use, because subscribers will have access to television-like programming on demand.

In essence the company's FCC petition involves unbundling cable networks. The cable industry is quick to point out that Web sites are by no means the same as cable network broadcasts.

IVI President Don Janke argues that the technical quality of Internet content today, including streaming video, is so close to broadcast television that the content distinction should be disregarded.

To reiterate the point, IVI recently updated their Perki.Net cable access portal to include more than 70 video broadcast Web sites from around the world.

Janke said that if a video programmer has a right to be broadcast under the leased access provisions of the federal law, than so to does an ISP have the same rights to broadcast web content.

Janke said IVI does not expect a federally-sanctioned free ride on existing cable networks since leased access rates average around $20,000 a month for a single local channel.

IVI currently provides Internet access for about 30,000 subscribers over conventional phone lines and 1,700 subscribers over cable modems.

Unlike IVI, America Online and other ISPs that formed the openNET Coalition have demanded that the FCC take immediate regulatory action to open cable networks. The group has asked the commission to make the cable industry act like a telephone company, or common carrier. So far, the FCC has ignored the requests for open access to cable networks.