RealTime IT News

Open Access Proponents Celebrate Initial Victory

Organizations supporting open access to cable networks are still celebrating last week's U.S. District Court ruling that AT&T Corp. must make open access part of its $55 billion purchase of Tele-Communications Inc.

"This decision was unavoidable and the idea that a local commission can't speak for their own utilities is not the exception, but the harbinger of things to come," said Greg Simon, co-director of the openNET Coalition.

"The federal government should take notice that the local governments want this to happen. We're hoping that the Federal Communications Commission reads the writing on the wall and opens up cable access so local governments don't need to fight with all these big company lawyers."

The FCC has noticed and is expected to put Internet Ventures Inc.'s petition for a declaratory ruling about cable access on the rocket docket this week.

Initial responses to IVI's petition will be received until July 13 and replies to those responses will be taken until July 28.

Some are speculating FCC Chairman William Kennard may issue a statement this week reiterating the commission's hands-off philosophy toward cable regulation and the need for market driven competition of cable modem access.

On the heels of the Portland decision, IVI has been quick to file multiple requests with AT&T for leased access information on systems in five cities throughout Oregon and Washington.

Don Janke, president of IVI, called the Portland decision "one giant leap" towards open access in some Northwest communities.

"We're going to get leased access. It's not a matter of when, it's a matter of where."

However Janke noted that leased access is only the first step in providing broadband cable access for Internet service providers.

"Now it's time to put our equipment in the enemies camp," he quipped.

Bill Whyman, an analyst with Legg-Mason's Precursor Group, said the Portland ruling is very good news for independent Internet providers.

"Taken together with the IVI FCC filing and the Portland ruling, things are merging to indicate a regulatory trend. This trend is particularly good for independent ISPs like MindSpring and EarthLink because it guarantees they won't be locked out of providing cable modem access," Whyman said.

Whyman said the open cable market trends are also critically important to Internet portals.

"AT&T is now a vertically-integrated entity. Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp. browsers have proven that 80 percent of content chosen while navigating the Net is selected from within the portals content base. That's a boom to commerce partners and a dangerous opportunity to build a closed private intranet within the Internet for AT&T."

AT&T is expected to file its own petition with the FCC this week. The telecommunications giant has called the Portland decision "inexplicable." AT&T was quick to point out that the real losers are likely to be the citizens of Portland and Multnomah County, saying the federal court's decision can only delay the deployment of new services to the area.

Janke reassured Portland residents "they will at least have one choice when it comes to selecting a cable access provider" and that IVI will help any local ISP in any way they can to gain access to cable networks.

Even before IVI entered the battle for leased access in Oregon, local ISPs were active in all procedures advocating open access to cable networks.

Rich Bader, vice-president of ORISTA, an Oregon-based Internet organization and operator of EasyStreet, a Portland ISP, said they worked with US West and America Online to make their opinions known.

"Regional Bell operating centers like US West have built DSL networks and have made them open and available for ISPs to offer DSL services. I see no reason why the same opportunities should not apply under a similar set of rules for cable networks to open their environment," Bader said.

As to adding cable modem access at EasyStreet, Bader said, "We're going to wait and see how this evolves through the courts. Right now this is going to force the FCC to make a ruling. We believe that competition is a good thing and that the FCC will rule in favor of consumer choice."