Two Virginia Congressmen this week introduced a bill designed to eliminate exclusive service agreements now being forged by cable Internet providers.
The Internet Growth and Development Act of 1999, introduced Thursday by Reps. Rick Boucher and Bob Goodlatte, attacks cable companies that bundle Internet access with cable television offerings. The Congressmen argue telephone companies that provide Internet service must offer the two services separately, but cable companies do not. They say that gives cable companies an unfair advantage when offering Internet services to customers.
“If the cable TV companies are permitted to force their cable modem customers to purchase their affiliated Internet access services as a condition of subscribing to their high speed transport service, many of the independent ISPs will be foreclosed from a large portion of their existing customer base and from market growth opportunities,” Boucher said.
The legislation comes on the heels of AT&T Corp.’s purchase of broadband provider MediaOne Group Inc. earlier this week. AT&T currently offers cable Internet service as a result of its acquisition of Tele-Communications Inc., and the MediaOne deal will likely expand those services.
“Congress must act now to ensure that the qualities that made the Internet a revolutionary tool for both businesses and families–openness, competition and easy consumer access–remain fundamental components of the Internet for future generations,” Goodlatte said.
The bill also proposes tougher restrictions regarding spam, or unsolicited e-mail, and would require ISPs to inform users when collecting data from a user’s hard disk.
Barbara Dooley, executive director of the Commercial Internet eXchange Association, said that organization is against the bill. She said there’s not enough evidence that a regulatory solution is currently needed.
She said the Goodlatte-Boucher bill was created largely for the benefit of America Online Inc. and regional Bells and that ISPs have nothing to gain from government regulation of Internet access.
“If it turns out there are true competition problems, we’ll go for it. But I don’t see that right now. There’s so much movement, it’s so new and the investment is enormous. (We don’t) want to go in that area today in a regulatory sense,” she said.
Dooley believes a more pressing issue for ISPs is securing Digital Subscriber Line service through the Bells. CIX believes the Bells are violating FCC rules by trying to impose unfair conditions on ISPs that want to purchase DSL services from them.
“This is what will make or break the businesses right now. If we don’t solve that problem today, it’s not clear how many companies will be in business three or five years down the line to take advantage of an open cable platform.”