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Groups Ask Congress to Probe FCC

Consumer groups Wednesday sent a joint letter urging Congress to initiate a full hearing into the Federal Communication Commission's failure to promote non-discriminatory access to broadband Internet access.

Four national and state consumer groups asked Representatives John Dingell (D-MI) and Ed Markey (D-MA) to find out why the FCC has failed to promote open access guidelines for broadband cable networks.

The Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Michigan Citizen Action and the Massachusetts Consumers' Coalition said the FCC has abdicated its responsibility to guarantee consumer choice of broadband cable access providers.

The groups said the FCC has jeopardized the ability of the Internet to function as a ubiquitous, open means of communications and commerce.

Mark Cooper, CFA's director of Research, said a congressional hearing is an appropriate venue for exploring why the FCC has failed to defend the public interest.

"Open access is one of the most important issues facing consumers at the start of the 'Internet century,' yet it's an issue on which the FCC lags disastrously behind the curve," Cooper said.

Cooper said that recent industry developments including the proposed merger of America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. only serve to reinforce the need for clear and vigorous federal policy to ensure open access.

"In the absence of any federal regulatory leadership," Cooper concluded, "it is vital that local jurisdictions across the country continue to press for open access in order to prevent the information superhighway from becoming a private toll road."

The groups' letter comes at a critical juncture in the national debate over non-discriminatory access to cable networks.

Since announcing its proposed merger with Time Warner (TWX), America Online (AOL) has abandoned its open access lobbying efforts nationwide.

The consumer groups said that because AT&T Corp. owns a substantial stake of Time Warner, a merged AOL-Time Warner and AT&T (T) combined would control more than half of all the cable lines in the country.

In addition to the staggering level of ownership over broadband delivery systems, AT&T, Time Warner and AOL would have access to more than half of the narrowband Internet subscribers in the U.S.

The groups contend that the FCC is broken and consumers will suffer the consequences if Congress does not fix it.



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