RealTime IT News

AOL Attacked Over Cable Access Lobbying

America Online Inc. is in the cross-hairs of a conservative Washington, D.C. lobbying group.

The Frontiers of Freedom organization is launching a counter attack to AOL's campaign to try to open up cable TV networks for its Internet service.

At a new Web site,the group blasts the AOL-led Open Net Coalition, which in recent months has been lobbying Congress and the FCC to prevent cable companies like AT&T and Time Warner from monopolizing the cable infrastructure they've built.

According to the Frontiers' site, AOL is "calling for the heavy hand of government to stifle competitors and to regulate access to the Internet."

But one Open Net Coalition member said conservative group has it backwards. Brent Spooner, president of ConnectNet, a regional Internet service provider in Dallas, said competition and innovation will suffer if cable and phone companies are the only ones able to offer broadband Internet services.

"The argument boils down to competition versus monopoly. If it hadn't been for small Internet service providers, there would be no Internet," Spooner said.

ConnectNet and other Texas ISPs were unable to convince local regulators to block the recent transfer of TCI's cable access business to AT&T unless AT&T provided them with open access. Similar efforts have failed in other U.S. cities.

But Spooner claims that ten thousand Dallas area Internet users signed on in support of open access. He believes that consumer's desire to see communications competition will ultimately defeat attempts by groups like the Frontiers of Freedom. In the meantime, Spooner is telling ConnectNet customers to boycott cable Net access and stick with their pokier analog modems.

"I tell them don't do it as a matter of principle," Spooner said. "If everybody moved over to cable, innovation on the Internet would stop or slow dramatically. The consumer would pay more, get less, and have more restrictions."

Representatives of the Frontiers of Freedom did not return phone calls. The group is led by former Wyoming senator Malcolm Wallop, who served as campaign manager for Steve Forbes' 1996 presidential run.