The chief executive officers of America
Online Inc., PSINet Inc., MindSpring Enterprises, Inc. and US West, Inc. appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee
Tuesday urging federal legislators to guarantee open access of cable
networks and strengthen the 1996
AOL chairman Steve Case warned that exclusive high-speed cable deals would
undermine the growth and openness of today’s Internet.
“I oppose regulation of the Internet but the broadband infrastructures on
which the Internet rests, whether cable, telephone or other, must be open,” he said.
PSINet chairman and CEO William L. Schrader urged Congress to resist pleas
made by incumbent local exchange carriers to weaken the Telecommunications
Act of 1996 by creating new incentives for the Bell companies to expand
broadband access within their local service areas.
“The 1996 Act provides the Bell
companies with the keys to their own deregulation,” Schrader said. “I urge you to stay the
course of competition set out in the 1996 Act.”
In his testimony to the committee, Schrader observed that consumers have
benefited enormously from competition in the narrow-band Internet access
market. He cited the more than 6,000 ISPs in healthy competition across the
“The Act’s obligations for monopolies–open access to
unbundled elements of the incumbent’s network, cost-based interconnection,
reciprocal compensation, and flexible collocation arrangements–are all
necessary for competing providers to gain a foothold in the market for
delivery of broadband services to homes and businesses.”
He concluded that the innovation driving much of today’s Internet is from
the market imperative for competing providers to develop new and better
approaches to enhance speed, reliability, and customer satisfaction.
MindSpring founder and chief executive officer Charles Brewer urged Senate
members to preserve consumer choice and competition in the broadband
marketplace by ensuring that all ISPs have the opportunity to purchase
non-discriminatory access to the last mile cable network.
Consumers should be able to choose among competing Internet
Service Providers, weighing price, service quality, content features and
privacy policies in their choice,” Brewer said.
U S West President and CEO Sol Trujillo urged policymakers to take the
steps necessary to bring the benefits of that new competition to all
Americans, including expanding competition in long-distance, maintaining
affordable and accessible telecommunications services through the Universal
Service Fund and opening up regulatory restrictions.
The lawmakers responded to the controversial issue by calling for a study
of the broadband market. Chairman of the Senate committee John McCain said
that open broadband cable access is “crucial to the future of this nation,”
and that he would work to introduce bipartisan backing for a study by the
Federal Communications Commission and
Commerce Department’s National
Telecommunications and Information Administration.
More immediate relief in the form of federal legislation to halt the
exclusive nature of cable services is far from a reality. The FCC took a
hands-off stance on open cable access back in February and said that the
Committee would let the marketplace evolve in the private sector. The FCC
has not yet responded to the Senate Committee’s mandate for a study of the
Cable operators @Home Corp. and RoadRunner currently offer
broadband Internet access to consumers at speeds 25 or more times faster
than access using conventional telephone modems and already provide access
to over 600,000 subscribers nationwide.