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FCC Files for National Broadband Policy

William E. Kennard, Federal Communications Commission chairman, has asked the FCC general counsel to prepare a brief that would establish a national broadband policy.

In May, a federal district court ruled that the city government of Portland, Ore., has the authority to force its cable TV company to open access to independent Internet services providers. AT&T-owned Tele-Communications Inc., is appealing the decision.

In a speech made before the Federal Communications Bar Association Northern California Chapter on Tuesday, Kennard said the FCC would file the brief acting as a friend of the court.

Kennard said that he was disturbed by the effect that local franchising authorities could have on national broadband policy and on the deployment of broadband services if they did not leave the market to develop regulation-free.

"Unfortunately, a number of local franchising authorities have decided not to follow this de-regulatory, pro-competitive approach. Instead, they have begun imposing their own local open access provisions," Kennard said. "It is in the national interest that we have a national broadband policy."

Kennard stated that the FCC has the authority to set national broadband policy and that a non-regulatory approach is the best way to let the broadband industry flourish.

John Raposa, GTE associate general council, said that the FCC brief will have little bearing on the issue before the federal court.

"Filing a brief that says there ought to be a national policy on open access does not address in any manner the legal issue before the court," Raposa said. "The issue before the court is preemption. Unless the FCC would come in and attempt to preempt cities we do not believe their action is going to have any effect on the court of appeals."

David Olson, cable commission director for the city of Portland said he respects the opinions of the FCC and the commissioners, but that they are wrong on this issue.

"I think the commissioners are wrong in their view that inaction is the solution," Olson said. He added that "we remain sufficiently confident in our authority and the strength of our arguments that the judge will uphold the Ninth Circuit Court's ruling."

Kennard said competition between cable modem and digital subscriber line services is essential to accelerating broadband access.

He noted that in May 1997, @Home launched cable modem service in Phoenix and that four months later US West launched DSL in the same market. Kennard said competitive launches of DSL and cable modem services have dotted the landscape of broadband deployment since its origin.

"The competitive pattern is set, and it works," Kennard said. "We can have openness and competition by allowing this market to develop unfettered by regulation."

Raposa said that he was astounded that the FCC Chairman had become an advocate for the cable industry.

"I think the FCC is essentially acting as a mouthpiece for the cable industry in this regard. They obviously agree with the cable industry's arguments and they are in fact advocating on behalf of the cable industry."

In the meantime, the FCC will continue its active monitoring of the broadband marketplace.

Later this week, the FCC's Local and State Government Advisory Committee will be meeting with senior staff members to hear their concerns. FCC staff members plan to explain to local franchising authorities why the FCC believes it is not in the national interest to regulate the broadband industry.