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RealTime IT News

FCC Staff Favor Cable Network Protection

A Federal Communications Commission staff report released Monday recommends that national rules to protect cable franchises might be needed if more municipalities force cable companies to open their networks.

The working paper from the FCC's Office of Plans and Policy was written by Jason Oxman, counsel for advanced communications policy.

Oxman said the working paper is not intended to represent individual views of the FCC or any commissioner.

"The paper represents the views of individual staff members and are not official statements made by the commission or its commissioners," Oxman said. "The purpose of this piece is as a defense of the FCC's long standing policy of not regulating the Internet since 1970."

The commission still must be wary of anti-competitive behavior in the market, including last-mile delivery bottlenecks within cable systems. But the paper urges that any regulatory responses should be kept to a bare minimum and advises against the FCC simply impose regulations developed for old technologies on new Internet-based technologies.

In contrast to the working paper, recent federal court and county commissions have mandated that AT&T open its cable network to other Internet service providers.

In Portland, Ore., a federal district court ruled 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.

Michael Armstrong, AT&T chairman and chief executive officer, told a Senate panel Friday that the telecommunications giant will also challenge Florida's Broward County decision to open its cable network to Internet competitors like America Online, Inc.

Over the next few months AT&T will likely face similar court battles as they seek approval from local franchise authorities to complete the assimilation of MediaOne.

John Raposa, GTE associate general council, confirmed that GTE has offered to pay Broward Counties legal bills incurred by the AT&T suit.

Raposa said, "they have a small county attorney office. We wanted to offer them the financial support they need to effectively respond to the vast array of high priced lawyers AT&T will throw at this."

GTE does not provide local telephone services to Broward County. However, GTE does offer retail Internet access and backbone services to the area.

Raposa added that federal regulators have turned a blind eye to consumers.

"What we need is an effective national policy on open access to cable networks," Raposa said. "When the FCC says they have a hands-off policy, that's code that translates to a do nothing policy that can only hurt consumers."

Greg Simon, co-director of the OpenNet Coalition, said that the cable access issue is best left to local municipalities.

Simon said, "we think that the cities will recognize the importance of this issue because it's at the local point where regulators are in touch with their constituents."

Apparently, proponents of milking cable facilities can complain about AT&T/TCI monopolies until the cows come home. The FCC believes that history finds in favor of free market forces when in comes to inspiring innovation, maximizing public welfare, and creating competition within the herd.