RealTime IT News

AT&T Broadband Outlines ISP Inclusion

In the wake of the U.S. District Court ruling Friday declaring open access unconstitutional, AT&T Broadband outlined its solution to include independent Internet service providers on its cable network.

And unless the Federal Trade Commission sets a precedent with the merger conditions of America Online, Inc. and Time Warner, Inc., it's a platform liable to be an industry standard.

AT&T Broadband's open access solution, dubbed AT&T Choice, says any ISP that wants to be on its network can, as long as they pass reliability tests. The tests, they say, are only compatibility measures to ensure proprietary software doesn't crash the entire network.

To determine the feasibility of this process, field trials are being conducted with eight ISPs in Boulder, CO. The field tests, officials said, will prove the feasibility of getting a customer set up with cable Internet access with several ISPs on the same network.

The first step in AT&T Broadband's consumer walk-through determines the connectivity settings and appropriate routing necessary to get the customer set up.

The second step takes the user to a Web page with the independent ISPs that are providing competing services on the network. It is entirely up to the individual to decide which ISP they want to go with, AT&T officials said, and no one ISP has an advantage over the other. AT&T Broadband's service, whether it's Road Runner or @Home will get the same exposure as any other, they maintain.

The third step involves self-diagnostic software that seeks out and corrects customer connectivity and service issues before it becomes a problem. After determining the problem, the appropriate agency is informed, whether it's AT&T network administrators or the ISP.

Carl Smith, AT&T Broadband director of advanced products, said the company is obligated to make sure the customer's setup process is as painless and efficient as possible. To do that right, he said it's going to take a long time.

"We've been approaching this from a customer point of view," Smith said. "The testing is going well and we're ramping up our service with the other participating ISPs. Something like this takes a significant amount of time to develop, and we're making sure that it's done right, so that consumers have a dependable product."

AT&T's timetable on the field tests is what has many critics skeptical. The tests, which include a second set of tests in Massachusetts at the end of 2001, finish around the same its exclusivity contracts with @Home and RoadRunner end.

In all fairness, however, Time Warner has been less than hasty in its goal of incorporating independent ISPs on its cable network.

Mike Luftman, Time Warner spokesperson, said its ongoing feasibility tests in Columbus, OH, have just got into gear, with three independents ISPs yet to be added to the mix.

Currently AOL, Compuserve and RoadRunner are the only ISPs in the program. Juno Online Services, Inc., Microsoft Network and RMI.NET are expected to be included soon, Luftman said.

It should be noted: the three ISPs participating in Time Warner's feasibility tests are owned by either AOL or Time Warner.

He said the company expects to be finished with the tests in late 2001 to early 2002.

Critics point to the cable industry's regulation in Canada, where the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission mandated an open access policy, with cable network owners reselling its product for 25 percent less than its lowest retail price.

Jay Thomson, Canadian Association of Internet Providers president, said his country has gone through this process already, with third party ISP access available in the first quarter 2001.

"We have conducted field tests here in Canada with VideoTron and AOL Canada, field tests that have shown that the technolog