Broward County Regulators Rule for Open Access

Broward County, Fla., this week became the second county in the nation to force AT&T Corp.to open its cable networks.

The Broward Board of County
Commissioners
Tuesday voted in favor of mandated cable access for
independent Internet service providers.

As proponents chalk-up another win for open access to cable networks, AT&T, MediaOne and [email protected] have been vehemently thwarting
government attempts to force open access to their cable networks in Portland, Miami, Denver, Los
Angeles and San Francisco.

Cable companies contend that their systems have been built with private
capital and shouldn’t be opened to any company requesting access. They say
open access would delay deployment of broadband Internet services over
cable and that regulation will only hinder technological advancements.

Ken McNeely, AT&T vice president of law and government affairs-Florida,
said that the Broward County decision makes for bad public policy.

“Today’s decision is clearly wrong on the law and bad public policy. It
will have the unfortunate effect of discouraging investment in technology
that would bring a choice of local telephone providers and high speed
Internet access services to the citizens of Broward County.”

The Broward County ordinance was approved after several weeks of discussion
and lobbying efforts. Open-access proponents and ISPs applauded the Florida
decision. Greg Simon, co-director of the OpenNet
Coalition
, said the historic vote was good for cable modem
consumers and the cable business.

“The people of Broward County will be the long-term beneficiaries of this historic vote,” Simon said. “These commissioners understood that
competition is good for small business, good for consumers and good for the local economy.”

Robert Palucci, a local Florida ISP owner, testified before the commission
and was present for Tuesday’s decision believes the
future of his business was on the line. Palucci said the decision is a
fantastic victory for all ISPs nationwide.

“If this vote did not pass, I would have been put out of business. If we
were not successful yesterday we could have sold our equipment today,”
Palucci said. “I just hope other municipalities will vote for open access
because without it, everyone will lose.”

Last spring, Portland, Ore., became the first municipality to deny AT&T a monopoly on cable services. AT&T sued the city but a federal judge
ruled in the city’s favor last month, saying that local communities have
the right to decide what is best for the citizens. AT&T has appealed the
decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A ruling is expected to be
delivered early in October.

As part of its recent acquisitions of Tele-Communications Inc. and MediaOne, AT&T
must ask city and county officials to transfer local cable
franchises. In the process, local regulators can require AT&T to open its
network to competitors. The result is dozens of cities will be facing
similar decisions as AT&T applies for franchise transfers in the coming
months.

The Federal Communications Commission has
maintained a hands-off stance on the mandated cable access issue. Chairman
William E. Kennard had no comment on the Florida action. However, Kennard
openly spoke about his concerns last month. He said that a patchwork of
local regulations requiring cable open access would create “chaos” in the
industry.

As local regulators continue to decide the issue of mandated cable access
for their respective cities and counties, the FCC is under increasing
pressure to take a stand and enact national policy toward open access.

John Raposa, GTE associate general
council, said federal regulators have turned a blind eye to consumers.

“What we need is an effective national policy on open access to cable
networks,” Raposa said. “When the FCC says they have a hands-off policy,
that’s code translates to a do nothing policy that can only hurt consumers.”

Jonathan B. Sallet, MCI
WorldCom
chief policy counsel, predicts there will be a national
policy in regard to open access even if the FCC fails to regulate the issue.

“The FCC has decided to stay on the sidelines. If they stay there, we’ll
continue to get local governments determining that open access is good for
their communities. There will be one united policy in favor of consumer
choice at the end of the day.”

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