RealTime IT News

ISP Access to Cable Mired in FCC Security Gaff

Thursday's heavily hyped monthly meeting of the Federal Communications Commission that included a discussion of the "open access" cable issue failed to even open up the debate, let alone deliver a national broadband policy.

After trimming its agenda from seven to four items, Commissioner Gloria Tristani asked that the regulators also postpone discussing the hotly contested cable issue. Tristani expressed outrage that The Washington Post had published a draft copy of the regulatory agency's tentative proposals concerning its review of cable access in the U.S.

The ar ticle said that FCC was closely coordinating its review with the Federal Trade Commission, which is strongly inclined toward forcing cable companies to share their systems with rivals as a part of its current review of the America Online Inc., Time Warner Inc. merger.

Tristani said the article "makes a mockery of our system," adding that, "it's a troubling breach because everyone who had access to the draft must be questioned."

FCC Commissioner William Kennard has put all staff members on notice and said that he considered the incident a very serious breach of the Commission's procedures. Kennard ordered that the Inspector General investigate the incident immediately.

Kennard then agreed to postpone today's cable discussion, as long as Tristani agreed to vote on the item within a two-week timetable.

In doing so, Kennard said it was very important that the regulators work quickly to address the cable issue.

"It's time that we step up to the plate and establish a record on cable access," Kennard said. "Stay tuned, we will issue a decision very soon."

The five federal regulators announced its official inquiry about cable access at the end of June. Kennard said that the time was right for the FCC staff to develop a framework for addressing cable issues.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that broadband access to the Internet over cable systems is a "telecommunications service." Known as the "Portland Decision," the ruling opened the door for FCC review, in that it alluded that cable should be treated like copper and regulated in a consistent manner.

The openNET Coalition, which has remained relatively silent on the issue over the summer, issued a preemptive reaction to the alleged results of the FCC's Notice of Inquiry.

The group representing more than 1,000 independent Internet service providers across the nation renewed its call for the FCC to take definitive action and guarantee consumer choice of ISPs over cable broadband networks by the end of the year.

Kristan Van Hook, openNET co-director, said that the group was frustrated that it's taken nearly two years of national debate for the FCC to finally begin a formal review of the open access issue.

"We are disappointed that the FCC is issuing a call for further discussion rather than proposing concrete steps that will ensure consumer choice on cable broadband systems," Van Hook said. "We urge the FCC to act as quickly to require open access as the industry is moving to provide cable broadband services."

The openNET coalition and other consumer groups asked that the FCC uphold the principles supported by the Court and establish a national policy mandating open access.

The issue of cable-based Internet access and the opportunity for providers to gain access to MSO networks has taken center stage in the proposed America Online Inc. , Time Warner Inc. deal.

Both AOL and Time Warner signed a memorandum of understanding in February