RealTime IT News

L.A. Looks To Accelerate Broadband Access

While Internet service providers are lobbying regulators to force cable companies to open their networks to competitors, a Los Angeles government agency is not sure that's such a good idea.

Late last week the city's Information Technology Agency recommended the city not order cable companies to unbundle their networks to provide access for unaffiliated Internet providers.

The report will be formally presented to the Los Angeles City Council on Monday. The ITA plan intends to accelerate deployment of broadband cable access in L.A. by requiring that all franchised cable companies serving the city submit a deployment plan. The report also recommended that cable companies be required to pay franchise fees on all revenues generated by cable modem services.

The ITA report is a culmination of a six-month extensive fact-finding process that gives the seven franchised cable companies a big advantage in brining broadband Internet access to market. AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Century Communications, MediaOne, Cox Communications, Falcon Communications, and Buenavision Telecommunications all operate cable systems in 14 different franchise areas of Los Angeles.

There are an estimated 602,200 cable customers in Los Angeles. According to estimates, as many as one-third of those customers would subscribe to cable Internet access in the next two years.

The ITA study was based on in-depth interviews by the ITA staff with policy makers at the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Justice and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The process also included extensive written filings and public hearings.

In addition to the cable industry, parties participating in the process included America Online, GTE, SBC and subsidiary Pacific Bell.

The report concludes "given the increase in the number of competing parties and competing technologies, each of which provides a viable high-speed on-ramp to the Internet, it does not appear at this time that regulatory intervention on the magnitude of open access is either prudent or advisable."

The ITA found that service unbundling was feasible, but not warranted.

"Cable modem services already permit single, click through to unaffiliated content providers. There is no reason to require cable operators to absorb any additional charges required to access those providers."

The city's report concurred saying, "The agency agrees with the findings of the FCC regarding the likelihood of competition in the marketplace for residential broadband Internet access services."

"The Los Angeles Information Technology Agency has clearly determined that government regulation of Internet access is unwarranted, and could reduce competitive choices for consumers," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T general counsel.

"No other city in the United States has so thoroughly reviewed this issue, and we believe Los Angeles, like the FCC, has reached the right conclusion." The study will be formally reviewed Monday by the Board of Information Technology Commissioners before being forwarded to the Los Angeles City Council.

In January Mayor Richard Riordan instructed the ITA to develop a policy and implementation plan for open, nondiscriminatory access to cable architecture by Internet service providers, as applied to all cable franchises in the city.

Mayor Riordan openly supports the franchise system in which cable television companies are allowed to provide their clients with exclusive access to broadband Internet services.

The ITA's findings were not without casualties. The new president of Mayor Richard Riordan's Information Technology Commission resigned after one day in office.

Joyce Emmerson has declined any comment as to the reasons for her departure. But her resignation is only one of many controversial departures from the Los Angeles City Hall this past week. The Emmerson departure came only one day after the resignation of her predecessor, Alan Arkatov.

Arkatov allegedly resigned because of the forthcoming vote on the broadband Internet access report. Arkatov and Riordan disagreed on the issue of open access to cable networks. Rather than vote against the man who put him in office, Arkatov resigned. Both Emmerson and Arkatov favored different versions of open access to cable networks by all ISPs.

On Monday, ITA member Richard Duggan also submitted his resignation, throwing the agency into chaos since it's now impossible to have a quorum.

"I have no other alternative than to resign my commission given my view on open access in contrast to your view which you want the BITC to adopt. Although the term of my commission expires on July 1, 1999, I submit this resignation to be effective immediately. It is my parting hope that the city makes the right decision in favor of open access."

Only commissioners Rohit K. Shukla and Janice V. Wood remain on the board at this time, making a quorum impossible without new appointees.