ISP Access to Cable Mired in FCC Security Gaff

Thursday’s heavily hyped monthly meeting of the Federal Communications Commission that
included a discussion of the “open access” cable issue failed to even open
up the debate, let alone deliver a national broadband policy.

After trimming its agenda from seven to four items, Commissioner Gloria
Tristani asked that the regulators also postpone discussing the hotly
contested cable issue. Tristani expressed outrage that The Washington
Post
had published a draft copy of the regulatory agency’s tentative
proposals concerning its review of cable access in the U.S.

The ar
ticle
said that FCC was closely coordinating its review with the Federal Trade Commission, which is strongly
inclined toward forcing cable companies to share their systems with rivals
as a part of its current review of the America Online Inc., Time Warner Inc. merger.

Tristani said the article “makes a mockery of our system,” adding that,
“it’s a troubling breach because everyone who had access to the draft must
be questioned.”

FCC Commissioner William Kennard has put all staff members on notice and
said that he considered the incident a very serious breach of the
Commission’s procedures. Kennard ordered that the Inspector General
investigate the incident immediately.

Kennard then agreed to postpone today’s cable discussion, as long as
Tristani agreed to vote on the item within a two-week timetable.

In doing so, Kennard said it was very important that the regulators work
quickly to address the cable issue.

“It’s time that we step up to the plate and establish a record on cable
access,” Kennard said. “Stay tuned, we will issue a decision very soon.”

The five federal regulators announced its official inquiry about cable
access at the end of June. Kennard said that the time was right for the FCC
staff to develop a framework for addressing cable issues.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that broadband access to the
Internet over cable systems is a “telecommunications service.” Known as the
“Portland Decision,” the ruling opened the door for FCC review, in that it
alluded that cable should be treated like copper and regulated in a
consistent manner.

The openNET Coalition, which
has remained relatively silent on the issue over the summer, issued a
preemptive reaction to the alleged results of the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry.

The group representing more than 1,000 independent Internet service
providers across the nation renewed its call for the FCC to take definitive
action and guarantee consumer choice of ISPs over cable broadband networks
by the end of the year.

Kristan Van Hook, openNET co-director, said that the group was frustrated
that it’s taken nearly two years of national debate for the FCC to finally
begin a formal review of the open access issue.

“We are disappointed that the FCC is issuing a call for further discussion
rather than proposing concrete steps that will ensure consumer choice on
cable broadband systems,” Van Hook said. “We urge the FCC to act as quickly
to require open access as the industry is moving to provide cable broadband
services.”

The openNET coalition and other consumer groups asked that the FCC uphold
the principles supported by the Court and establish a national policy
mandating open access.

The issue of cable-based Internet access and the opportunity for providers
to gain access to MSO networks has taken center stage in the proposed
America Online Inc. , Time Warner Inc. deal.

Both AOL and Time Warner signed a memorandum of understanding in February

agreeing to provide competitors access and company executives said they
considered the policy binding.

Juno Online Services Inc. reached an initial agreement to access Time Warner’s cable
system in July and the national ISP is participating in shared access tests
taking place in Columbus, OH. But the terms of the deal have not been
finalized and no date has been announced for when users can access Time
Warner’s system over the ISP of their choice.

MindSpring, now owned by EarthLink,
Inc.
struck a similar deal with AT&T Corp. . But the deal is
delayed until exclusive contracts among principal partners of [email protected] expire in
June 2002.

Rich Bond, openNET co-director said the memos of understanding between
major cable broadband and a few providers indicate that consumers may have
a choice of ISPs in the future, but that the agreements are merely
lip-service that feign support of open access.

“Prompt and effective FCC action is needed to safeguard the open
architecture of the Internet and ensure that consumers of cable broadband
services nationwide have non-discriminatory access to the ISP of their
choice,” Bond said. “Delay in protecting the basic openness of the Internet
is depriving consumers the benefits of lower prices, better service,
innovation, and choice in broadband services.”

The openNET Coalition has been promoting the adoption of a national open
access policy since its inception in 1998, but this is the first time the
organization called on the FCC to take action, when federal regulators were
reportedly poised to do just that.

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