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RealTime IT News

Miami Votes No on Open Access

Miami-Dade County commissioners this week rejected a proposal to impose local regulations on cable broadband offerings.

Tuesday's development is the latest in a string of open access decisions and the Miami-Dade County vote is a breakthrough for AT&T, Excite@Home and Cox Communications, which argue that they should not be forced to make their cable networks available to competitors.

Proponents said Tuesday's decision would hasten the deployment of broadband cable Internet services in Miami. Cable companies contend that their systems have been built with private capital and shouldn't be opened to any company requesting access. They say open access would delay deployment of broadband Internet services over cable and that regulation will only hinder technological advancements.

Excite@Home (ATHM), commended the 10-2 vote by the Miami-Dade County Commission. In a statement, company executives said Dade County's decision sets the stage for rapid deployment of competitive new broadband services.

"The Miami-Dade County Commission demonstrated that they cared about bringing new choices to consumers and were not fooled by the efforts of the entrenched monopolists to slow down competition," Excite@Home said.

Opponents said the vote would mean that consumers have little choice among broadband service providers in Florida. Miami-Dade commissioners said they were concerned about legal threats made by the cable companies to sue the county, should they have decide to apply open access restrictions on current franchises.

Greg Simon, openNET Coalition co-director, said the group of more than 800 technology companies regret that threats have triumphed over competition and consumer choice in Dade County.

"The action by the members of the Dade County Commission is unfortunate, but given the cable industry's threats of lawsuits and denial of services not surprising," Simon said. "By giving in to the monopoly interests, the commission has effectively denied local consumers a choice in high-speed cable access."

Regardless of the decision, Simon said the issue of open access has generated significant attention nationwide and that the fight to give consumers the right to choose their broadband cable Internet service provider will continue.

Ken McNeely, AT&T vice president of law and government affairs - Florida, said the decision is a win-win for all consumers in Miami-Dade. Residents should applaud their Mayor and commissioners for their pro-competitive, pro-consumer vote.

"Miami-Dade consumers are the real winners today. Mayor Penelas and the county commissioners have rightly put the well-being of Miami-Dade consumers above those of outside interests," McNeely said. "The Commissions decision today will encourage further investment by AT&T and other cable companies in the community. With this investment in cable broadband technology, other broadband investment will follow."

Commissioners in Broward County, just north of Miami, voted in favor of mandatory access in July. AT&T promptly filed suit contesting the Broward County ruling. AT&T (T), which owns cable leader Tele-Communications Inc., argues that it spent billions buying cable companies to create a national network for local telephone and high-speed Internet service and should be allowed to recoup its investment.

Last spring, Portland, Ore., became the first municipality to deny AT&T a monopoly on cable services. AT&T sued the city but a U.S. District Judge ruled in the city's favor last month, saying that local communities have the right to decide what is best for the citizens. AT&T hasappealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court, arguments in the case are scheduled to begin next week.

As part of its recent acquisitions of Tele-Communications Inc. and MediaOne, AT&T must ask city and county officials to transfer the local cable franchise. In the process, local regulators can require AT&T to open its network to competitors. The result is that dozens of cities will be facing similar decisions as AT&T applies for franchise transfers in the coming months.

The Federal Communications Commission has maintained a hands-off stance on the mandated cable access issue. Chairman William E. Kennard had no comment on the Florida action. However, Kennard openly spoke about his concerns that a patchwork of local regulations requiring cable open access would create "chaos" in the industry.

As local regulators continue to decide the issue of mandated cable access for their respective cities and counties, the FCC is under increasing pressure to take a stand and enact a national broadband policy.