RealTime IT News

San Fran Committee To Review Open Access

A San Franciso Public Utilities Committee may take steps to require AT&T Corp. open access to its Tele-Communications Inc. cable network in the Bay Area.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal by city staff that would have granted AT&T a monopoly in the major metropolitan market.

The committee did not accept AT&T's promise to upgrade the city's cable system upon approval of the TCI deal. Instead, the board instructed staff members to reopen negotiations with AT&T and consider making open access a prerequisite to the deal.

The committee moved to continue the discussion of the issue by the full Board of Supervisors to be held in a closed session early in July.

Tom Ammiano, president of the board of supervisors and head of the utilities committee, informed staff members that he would vote against transferring the city's cable franchise to AT&T. In doing so, Ammiano said that local opinion and petitions demanded a full review of the AT&T/TCI deal.

"I cannot speak for the full Board," Ammiano said, "but I know all of them are concerned. They've been hearing from their constituents and consumers."

A U.S. District Judge in Portland ruled late last month that the municipality had jurisdiction over their cable franchise and that they could require AT&T open cable network access as a part of serving the public interest. AT&T has appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Greg Simon, openNET Coalition co-director said he was encouraged by San Francisco's actions.

"Portland stood up to AT&T and refused to let them have a monopoly. It looks like San Francisco is showing similar courage and we appreciate the efforts by city officials to protect their citizens."

Simon said consumer choice would be history if cities throughout the nation fail to take similar action.

"What is happening in San Franciso is happening in all the cities where AT&T is buying cable franchises and seeking to avoid competition. People throughout the country should be concerned because if the cable monopoly controls high-speed Internet access it will dictate what you pay, how you get online, and the Web sites you see," Simon said.

Competitive rhetoric aside, the Federal Communications Commission has yet to formally address mandatory cable network access in the U.S.

FCC Chairman William E. Kennard has indicated that he fears local jurisdiction over the issue will convolute policy and delay consumer access to broadband services.

In his first public statement after the Portland court decision, Chairman Kennard said, the market would be rocked with uncertainty; investment would be stymied; consumers would be hurt.

In a speech made before the Federal Communications Bar Association in Chicago earlier this week, FCC Commissioner Michael K. Powell indicated the mandatory network access does not merit government intervention on behalf of Internet service providers.

"Our job is normally not to protect competitors; it's to protect consumers."