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Kennard Stumps For National Broadband Policy

Federal Communications Commission Chairman William E. Kennard Wednesday called on local authorities to work with federal officials to craft a national broadband policy that encourages consumer protection and fair deployment of broadband services.

Kennard also said he envisions a day when every home in America would have access to multiple broadband pipes. His remarks were made in a breakfast meeting at the annual convention of the National Cable Television Association in Chicago.

In Portland, Ore., a federal district court ruled earlier this month that the city government has the authority to force its cable TV company to open access to all Internet services providers. AT&T-owned Tele-Communications Inc., is appealing the decision.

In his first public statement on the open access issue since that court decision, Kennard said the "market would be rocked with uncertainty, investments would be stymied and consumers hurt" if the country's 30,000 local cable franchising authorities were left to decide the technical standards for high-speed Internet access and cable television systems.

As if to point local franchise authorities in the right direction, Kennard said he was surprised no one had filed a petition for declaratory relief with the FCC.

"The best way to serve consumers is to create incentives for industry to build broadband networks. We don't have a duopoly, we don't have a monopoly, we have a no-opoly."

Kennard said he would take AT&T Corp. Chairman Michael Armstrong at his word that AT&T Corp. is committed to the open tradition of the Internet. However, Kennard said the FCC will remain vigilant in its commitment to consumer protection.

Whether AT&T acts responsible remains to be seen. Kennard's entrance into the debate over who has the power to provide Internet access over cable lines potentially means that broadband access won't be engulfed in regulatory chaos.

Internet providers like America Online Inc. contend that the FCC's decision not to regulate access to cable networks is slowing the development of broadband Internet access.

Cable companies defend their attempts to bar access as part of their freedom to control who uses their lines, plant and property.

This week GTE Service Corp. announced it had proven that cable modem systems can easily be operated on an open access basis, permitting customers to select the Internet service provider of their choice.

AT&T contends that the technology does not introduce any new capability and that GTE's Clearwater, Fla., tests are misleading.