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Consumer Group Asks ISPs to Engage Local Cable Firms

The Consumer Federation of America is calling on all Internet service providers to press local, state and federal governments to develop open access cable policies.

The CFA Friday released an action plan for ISPs that outlines what independent operators can do to secure shared access to closed cable plants.

Mark Cooper, CFA's director of research, said the recent 9th Circuit ruling in the case between AT&T Corp. and Portland, Ore., declared that broadband Internet facilities are telecommunications service. The decision is being used by the CFA as a launch pad to redouble its efforts to obtain open access.

"The fundamental telecommunications public policy issue at every level of government is to ensure that consumers and ISPs have access to cable modem service on non-discriminatory rates, terms, and conditions" Cooper said.

According to the document, "Open Access: Phase II Action Plan," ISPs should take number of steps toward guaranteeing open access to broadband cable facilities.

The CFA urges that ISPs contact local governments citing the 9th Circuit court ruling demanding that it exercise authority over local over telecom issues as a path to open access.

"Local governments and state legislatures should adopt policies in support of open access," the document said. "Ask the state public utility commission to exercise jurisdiction and require open access."

Additionally, the CFA urges ISPs to seek interconnection agreements and nondiscriminatory access from cable modem service providers. According to the consumer group, if a cable operator fails to grant access, ISPs have the right to immediately seek government action at the state and federal levels.

Cooper noted that activity across the nation in support of open access has picked-up since the 9th Circuit ruled on the "Portland Decision."

"As part of the July 11 transfer of the cable franchise in Montgomery County, Maryland, the County Council declared an open access policy," Cooper said. "It specified how cable companies must fulfill their promises to provide open access, and forced Comcast Corp. to accept its franchising authority to provide nondiscriminatory access to multiple ISPs."

The CFA reports that ISPs in California, within the 9th Circuit Court's jurisdiction, have already requested interconnection agreements with AT&T cable franchises. Other ISPs in California have gone before the state public utility commission requesting that it exercise authority over broadband telecommunications service.

The US Internet Industry Association last week petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for open access.

The CFA requested that the FCC immediately require cable companies in Texas and New York to file open access tariffs. The group contends that the FCC has found that competing telephone companies in the two states have opened their local markets to high-speed digital subscriber line service, so federal regulators should do the same for cable telecom services.

The Federal Communications Commission last week announced it intended to review cable competition in the U.S.

The CFA's Cooper said a FCC review of local cable monopolies would be too little, too late.

"We reject Chairman Kennard's plans to take several months to start a proceeding that asks the wrong questions," Cooper said. "It is the height of inconsistency for the FCC to impose line sharing on high speed telephone connections, but impose no obligations whatsoever on high speed cable connections"

Cooper said the CFA action plan demands non-discriminatory access to cable facilit