RealTime IT News

Massachusetts Slated for Open Access

A Massachusetts-based consumer group this week dropped its open access referendum bid from the state's November ballots when AT&T Corp. agreed to allow rival Internet service providers on its cable systems in three municipalities.

AT&T and the Massachusetts Coalition for Consumer Choice and Competition on the Internet, known in short as the Mass Coalition, reached agreement that will provide AT&T's Massachusetts broadband customers a choice of ISPs over its cable systems in two years.

Under the agreement, AT&T will conduct a multiple ISP pilot program in up to three Massachusetts communities, no later than Oct. 31, 2001.

The deal calls for AT&T to implement an ISP choice standard statewide no later than July 1, 2002, when its exclusive distribution deal with Excite@Home expires.

James Cicconi, AT&T general counsel and executive vice president, said the agreement is a further expansion its commitment already made as a part of the telecom giant's public publicly in favor of shared access.

"We will absolutely provide them with a choice of ISPs on our cable system," Cicconi said. " We are pleased that a number of ISPs, both large and small, have agreed to participate with us in these trials."

Cicconi added that AT&T has embraced the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court decision last week that allows it to determine who can play on the cable systems it owns and operates.

"Coupled with last week's federal court decision in the Ninth Circuit, AT&T has made it clear that the marketplace is already addressing the ISP choice issue without the need for government intrusion," Cicconi said.

AT&T has announced that it would test cable sharing technologies in Boulder, Colorado earlier this month. The trials are set to launch this fall, while the Massachusetts trials as scheduled to commence next fall.

Christopher Grace, Mass Coalition chairman, said the groups mission has been accomplished.

"Once a technical system is in place for handling multiple ISPs, AT&T Broadband's cable Internet customers will be able to choose among a variety of ISPs and this will create a pro-consumer environment," Grace said. "Over the long-term, it should result in lower prices, improved service, and more rapid innovation."

Grace also credited America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. with contributing to the group's cause.

"AOL and Time Warner also made an open access commitment to Massachusetts," Grace said. "The issue is no longer whether the cable industry will adopt open access policies. We can now focus on implementation."

Grace said that voluntary agreements are a feasible way to satisfy the demand in Massachusetts for consumer choice policies. The Mass Coalition collected more than 100,000 signatures and earned the support from many prominent Massachusetts residents and organizations for passage of its initiative petition.

AT&T was urged to open access to its cable facilities by state Sens. Michael Morrissey and David Magnani, and state Reps. Daniel Bosley and Arthur Broadhurst Jr. in April. The legislators recommended that AT&T and the coalition to reach a compromise, rather than endure the expense and legal uncertainties of a ballot initiative campaign.