ISP Group Lobbies FCC For Open Access to Cable

A group of Internet service providers and
telecommunications companies is asking the Federal Communications Commission to open
cable networks to competition.


An impressive collection of companies requested Wednesday that the FCC open
access to cable systems, contending that open access will enable ISPs to
lease the lines they need to deliver advanced digital services.


Specifically, they are asking the FCC to ensure ISPs have access to cable
lines that extend into the home, typically known as “the last mile.”


“Any consumer who wants cable’s high speed, but prefers an ISP other than
the one owned or affilated with the cable company will, in effect, have to
pay for two ISPs to get the one they want,” the group wrote.


“Limiting consumer choice in Internet access will block the diversity and
innovation that are today the hallmark of the Internet and will introduce
monopolistic practices into the open avenues of the information super
highway.”


The group contends that government should not allow cable operators to
reverse the present policy of consumer choice by limiting access to the
broadband networks.


The largest ISP consortium ever formed to petition the FCC included America Online, MCI WorldCom MindSpring, Prodigy, Qwest Communications International, Rocky Mountain Internet, US West, the ISP trade associations of
Oregon and Washington and several smaller service providers and
educational organizations.


FCC commissioners have shown reluctance to rule on the issues of open
access. The FCC is expected to close the regulatory review of the $48
billion Tele-Communications Inc.
AT&T Corp. by the end of the first
quarter.


AT&T plans to upgrade TCI’s cable lines to offer local phone and other
services, a move that could crack open the regional Bell companies’ lock on
local phone service. But opponents, including America Online, want the FCC
to provide it and other companies with guaranteed access to TCI’s upgraded,
high-speed cable lines to provide competing services.


Recent developments, however, could force the FCC to review the open access
issue on a greater scale.


AT&T and TCI filed suit Tuesday in federal court against Portland, Ore.
The city denied the transfer of a cable license from TCI to AT&T over the
question of open access. AT&T and TCI are asking the federal judge to rule
that the city did not have the authority to impose open access requirements
on the two companies as part of their merger.


Oregon Senator Ron Wyden tried to broker a compromise between AT&T and
Portland City officials last week. Although staff members declined to
discuss Wyden’s plans, the lawmaker could introduce legislation affecting
the cable industry, or direct the FCC to rule on open access.


AT&T and TCI oppose the proposed requirements, arguing it would be unfair
for the companies to invest in expensive cable networks while allowing
competitors to use them for just a small fee. The companies also say local
jurisdictions don’t have the authority to make open access rulings.


ISPs will continue to push for open access to cable networks. Among the
ISPs lobbying the FCC is Internet Ventures. That company hopes to leverage
existing FCC laws to force cable operators to open infrastructures to
Internet competition.


Unlike AOL, MindSpring and others, Internet
Ventures
hopes to use existing laws to force cable systems to start
selling ISPs access to their networks. AOL, MCI Worldcom, MindSpring and
other companies are lobbying both the FCC and state authorities for a new
law stipulating the same arrangement.


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