Cambridge Hands AT&T Another Open-Access Defeat

AT&T Corp. has suffered another setback in its plan to prohibit competing Internet service providers from having equal access to their cable Internet systems.

Cambridge, Mass., Thursday joined the list of local authorities that are requiring cable Internet access providers to open their networks to competitors.

Cambridge City Manager Robert W. Healy, said the city will establish open-access requirements requirements as part of its license transfer from MediaOne to AT&T (T).

The decision means that AT&T must provide nondiscriminatory access to its cable modem platform in Cambridge for unaffiliated providers of Internet and online services.

Healy said citizens of Cambridge want the freedom to choose their high-speed Internet access provider.

“As a matter of principle, the open flow of ideas, information and commerce is the cornerstone of our democracy and economy. Cambridge consumers deserve the choices and competition that should result from a requirement of non-discriminatory access to broadband cable.”

Greg Simon, openNET Coalition co-director, represents a group of more than 800 technology companies and Internet service providers that have united to preserve open access and consumer choice in broadband cable access.

“We applaud the city of Cambridge. Consumers should have the right to choose whatever Internet Service Provider they want, and cable companies should not be allowed to eliminate that choice by closing their networks to competition.”

Cambridge joins local municipalities in Oregon, Florida and Virginia in requiring cable companies to open their networks to competing ISPs.

The Federal Communications Commission has so far not required open access but said it will monitor the nascent high-speed cable Internet market. However, the FCC this week authorized broadcast television station, KHLM-LP in Houston, to deliver Internet content only.

Industry analysts contend that the FCC authorization could be seen as a determination that Internet programming be considered a television broadcast. If so, ISPs demanding leased access under Section 612 of the Communications Act could receive a big boost in their efforts to gain access to proprietary cable systems.

MediaOne recently completed its fiber optic build out in Cambridge, a necessary upgrade for two-way cable systems offering broadband access to the Internet.

Healy said he didn’t believe that AT&T would close down broadband access to Cambridge because the network has already been upgraded.

“I do not expect them to pack up their wires and leave Cambridge with the imposition of this requirement,” Healy said. “I am confident that they have the technical know-how and the business negotiation skills to find a way to share their facilities with others to the benefit of Cambridge customers.”

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