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RealTime IT News

ISP Group Lobbies FCC For Open Access to Cable

A group of Internet service providers and telecommunications companies is asking the Federal Communications Commission to open cable networks to competition.

An impressive collection of companies requested Wednesday that the FCC open access to cable systems, contending that open access will enable ISPs to lease the lines they need to deliver advanced digital services.

Specifically, they are asking the FCC to ensure ISPs have access to cable lines that extend into the home, typically known as "the last mile."

"Any consumer who wants cable's high speed, but prefers an ISP other than the one owned or affilated with the cable company will, in effect, have to pay for two ISPs to get the one they want," the group wrote.

"Limiting consumer choice in Internet access will block the diversity and innovation that are today the hallmark of the Internet and will introduce monopolistic practices into the open avenues of the information super highway."

The group contends that government should not allow cable operators to reverse the present policy of consumer choice by limiting access to the broadband networks.

The largest ISP consortium ever formed to petition the FCC included America Online, MCI WorldCom MindSpring, Prodigy, Qwest Communications International, Rocky Mountain Internet, US West, the ISP trade associations of Oregon and Washington and several smaller service providers and educational organizations.

FCC commissioners have shown reluctance to rule on the issues of open access. The FCC is expected to close the regulatory review of the $48 billion Tele-Communications Inc. - AT&T Corp. by the end of the first quarter.

AT&T plans to upgrade TCI's cable lines to offer local phone and other services, a move that could crack open the regional Bell companies' lock on local phone service. But opponents, including America Online, want the FCC to provide it and other companies with guaranteed access to TCI's upgraded, high-speed cable lines to provide competing services.

Recent developments, however, could force the FCC to review the open access issue on a greater scale.

AT&T and TCI filed suit Tuesday in federal court against Portland, Ore. The city denied the transfer of a cable license from TCI to AT&T over the question of open access. AT&T and TCI are asking the federal judge to rule that the city did not have the authority to impose open access requirements on the two companies as part of their merger.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden tried to broker a compromise between AT&T and Portland City officials last week. Although staff members declined to discuss Wyden's plans, the lawmaker could introduce legislation affecting the cable industry, or direct the FCC to rule on open access.

AT&T and TCI oppose the proposed requirements, arguing it would be unfair for the companies to invest in expensive cable networks while allowing competitors to use them for just a small fee. The companies also say local jurisdictions don't have the authority to make open access rulings.

ISPs will continue to push for open access to cable networks. Among the ISPs lobbying the FCC is Internet Ventures. That company hopes to leverage existing FCC laws to force cable operators to open infrastructures to Internet competition.

Unlike AOL, MindSpring and others, Internet Ventures hopes to use existing laws to force cable systems to start selling ISPs access to their networks. AOL, MCI Worldcom, MindSpring and other companies are lobbying both the FCC and state authorities for a new law stipulating the same arrangement.