RealTime IT News

ISP Execs Solicit Senate for Open Access

The chief executive officers of America Online Inc., PSINet Inc., MindSpring Enterprises, Inc. and US West, Inc. appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday urging federal legislators to guarantee open access of cable networks and strengthen the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

AOL chairman Steve Case warned that exclusive high-speed cable deals would undermine the growth and openness of today's Internet.

"I oppose regulation of the Internet but the broadband infrastructures on which the Internet rests, whether cable, telephone or other, must be open," he said.

PSINet chairman and CEO William L. Schrader urged Congress to resist pleas made by incumbent local exchange carriers to weaken the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by creating new incentives for the Bell companies to expand broadband access within their local service areas.

"The 1996 Act provides the Bell companies with the keys to their own deregulation," Schrader said. "I urge you to stay the course of competition set out in the 1996 Act."

In his testimony to the committee, Schrader observed that consumers have benefited enormously from competition in the narrow-band Internet access market. He cited the more than 6,000 ISPs in healthy competition across the country.

"The Act's obligations for monopolies--open access to unbundled elements of the incumbent's network, cost-based interconnection, reciprocal compensation, and flexible collocation arrangements--are all necessary for competing providers to gain a foothold in the market for delivery of broadband services to homes and businesses."

He concluded that the innovation driving much of today's Internet is from the market imperative for competing providers to develop new and better approaches to enhance speed, reliability, and customer satisfaction.

MindSpring founder and chief executive officer Charles Brewer urged Senate members to preserve consumer choice and competition in the broadband marketplace by ensuring that all ISPs have the opportunity to purchase non-discriminatory access to the last mile cable network.

Consumers should be able to choose among competing Internet Service Providers, weighing price, service quality, content features and privacy policies in their choice," Brewer said.

U S West President and CEO Sol Trujillo urged policymakers to take the steps necessary to bring the benefits of that new competition to all Americans, including expanding competition in long-distance, maintaining affordable and accessible telecommunications services through the Universal Service Fund and opening up regulatory restrictions.

The lawmakers responded to the controversial issue by calling for a study of the broadband market. Chairman of the Senate committee John McCain said that open broadband cable access is "crucial to the future of this nation," and that he would work to introduce bipartisan backing for a study by the Federal Communications Commission and Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

More immediate relief in the form of federal legislation to halt the exclusive nature of cable services is far from a reality. The FCC took a hands-off stance on open cable access back in February and said that the Committee would let the marketplace evolve in the private sector. The FCC has not yet responded to the Senate Committee's mandate for a study of the broadband market.

Cable operators @Home Corp. and RoadRunner currently offer broadband Internet access to consumers at speeds 25 or more times faster than access using conventional telephone modems and already provide access to over 600,000 subscribers nationwide.