Congressman Pushes AT&T, FCC on Cable Access Plan

Michigan Congressman John Dingell,
the most senior member of the House and ranking member of the Commerce
Committee, recently sent a letter to FCC Chairman
William E. Kennard and AT&T Corp.
Chairman C. Michael Armstrong expressing doubts over recent open-access pledges.

In the letter to Kennard, Dingell questioned the FCC’s vision and
competence due to its failure to publicly scrutinize or even question, the
cable industry’s claim that no more than one ISP could operate on a single
cable system. Dingell’s letter to Kennard also included a copy of the
Armstrong correspondence.

Dingell said that the FCC had failed in its charter to serve public
interest when Kennard handpicked industry leaders to find a way to open-up
closed cable systems.

“Both the Communications Act of 1934 and the Administrative Procedures Act
derive from the belief that federal agencies are required to serve the
public interest, and that the public interest is best determined through
open and fair processes in which all concerned parties have an opportunity
to participate,” Dingell said.

“In this instance, it appears that you personally handpicked a half-dozen
individuals or entities and asked them to develop a means for providing
consumers with cable open access,” he added.

Dingell noted that the Commission delayed that billion-dollar SBC- Ameritech transaction until it gained
SBC’s (SBC)
agreement to conditions that included an immediate and concrete commitment
to broadband open access. Such conditions have never been applied to AT&T’s
(T)
mergers with TeleCommunications, Inc., or
MediaOne Goup, Inc. (UMG).

Dingell said open access to cable systems is about both competition and
consumer welfare, and that the FCC had about 3-months to take definitive
action on the open access issue.

“The FCC has a statutory role and duty to pursue this matter and to develop
appropriate responses based on a full public record. I urge you to
undertake that responsibility without further delay, and to conclude such a
review by March 30, 2000, leaving sufficient time for the 106th Congress to
legislate on the issue in the event such action appears warranted,” Dingell
said.

In the correspondence to Armstrong, Dingell asked about AT&T’s newly
revised open access principles, which his company detailed in a letter of
intent to Kennard on December 6.

Dingell said the AT&T-Mindspring agreement raises important
policy questions and concerns concerning shared access to AT&T’s broadband
cable systems. Dingle said that when he co-sponsored the broadband
legislation bill H.R. 2420, he refrained from seeking open access on cable
systems because AT&T claimed there were technological impediments to
achieving shared access.

“Until recently, your company and others in the cable industry insisted
that no more than one ISP could operate on a single cable system.” Dingell
wrote. “It now appears evident, from the principles submitted to Chairman
Kennard, that at least AT&T has abandoned this technology argument, as well
as a number of other technical and economic arguments used by the cable
industry to oppose open access policies at all levels of government.”

Dingell added that he welcomes AT&T’s first step toward opening competition
for high-speed cable services with other Internet service providers.
However, he said thatthe principles must be considered together with the
le

tters submitted by other participants in the process, noting that three
of the original six participants chose not to sign the principles.

Dingell said the erosion of the technological argument against cable open
access should advance the movement toward a marketplace solution for
ensuring consumer choice. Instead, [email protected] withdrew from the discussions
and Andrew J. Schwartzman of the Media
Access Project
refused to sign the agreement forthright.

Dingell wants to know specifically what the terms of transport are for
MindSpring (MSPG)
and other ISPs if deals can be negotiated to share access to AT&T’s cable
plants.

“What ‘other terms’ are contemplated by this provision, and why would such
a negotiation with each individual ISP be necessary,” Dingell asked. “For
example, what requirements might AT&T seek to impose on an ISP desiring to
reach a customer through a cable connection that an incumbent local
exchange carrier would be prohibited from seeking or imposing on the same
ISP for a DSL connection? With the technological impediments to multiple
ISP access no longer a factor, what is the public policy basis for allowing
such disparate regulatory treatment?”

Dingell noted that no part of AT&T’s statement in principle appears to
guard against discriminatory treatment by AT&T between and among ISPs.

“In what ways does AT&T contemplate being able to treat various ISPs
differently,” Dingell asked Armstrong.

Dingell continued to AT&T’s chief why the company may insist that ISPs use
their transport facilities all the way to the Internet backbone. ”

“Why should an ISP that owns or has a long-term lease for transport
facilities, or that may have built its own regional node at another
location, be required to use AT&T’s transport facilities to the extent your
company suggests,” Dingell asked.

Dingell said that if those are the terms cable transport with AT&T, what
terms does AT&T contemplate offering ISPs for the use of the backbone itself?

“Why should the Members of this Committee not be concerned that AT&T will
merely use open access at the customer level as a device for increasing
concentration in the backbone market,” Dingell asked.

Dingell added that because the cable transport project with MindSpring is
delayed until mid-2002 due to their exclusive contract with [email protected](ATHM), he was concerned about how AT&T would the time interval to secure a base of customers who have no choice for cable Internet services.

Dingell asked that Armstrong respond to his questions before the close of
business on Friday.

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