Massachusetts Slated for Open Access

A Massachusetts-based consumer group this week dropped its open access
referendum bid from the state’s November ballots when AT&T Corp. agreed to allow rival Internet service providers
on its cable systems in three municipalities.

AT&T and the Massachusetts Coalition for Consumer Choice
and Competition on the Internet, known in short as the Mass Coalition,
reached agreement that will provide AT&T’s Massachusetts broadband
customers a choice of ISPs over its cable systems in two years.

Under the agreement, AT&T will conduct a multiple ISP pilot program in up
to three Massachusetts communities, no later than Oct. 31, 2001.

The deal calls for AT&T to implement an ISP choice standard statewide no
later than July 1, 2002, when its exclusive distribution deal with [email protected] expires.

James Cicconi, AT&T general counsel and executive vice president, said the
agreement is a further expansion its commitment already made as a part of
the telecom giant’s public publicly in favor of shared access.

“We will absolutely provide them with a choice of ISPs on our cable
system,” Cicconi said. ” We are pleased that a number of ISPs, both large
and small, have agreed to participate with us in these trials.”

Cicconi added that AT&T has embraced the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court decision
last week that allows it to determine who can play on the cable systems it
owns and operates.

“Coupled with last week’s federal court decision in the Ninth Circuit, AT&T
has made it clear that the marketplace is already addressing the ISP choice
issue without the need for government intrusion,” Cicconi said.

AT&T has announced that it would test cable sharing technologies in
Boulder, Colorado earlier this month. The trials are set to launch this
fall, while the Massachusetts trials as scheduled to commence next fall.

Christopher Grace, Mass Coalition chairman, said the
groups mission has been accomplished.

“Once a technical system is in place for handling multiple ISPs, AT&T
Broadband’s cable Internet customers will be able to choose among a variety
of ISPs and this will create a pro-consumer environment,” Grace said. “Over
the long-term, it should result in lower prices, improved service, and more
rapid innovation.”

Grace also credited America Online Inc.
and Time Warner
Inc.
with contributing to the group’s cause.

“AOL and Time Warner also made an open access commitment to Massachusetts,”
Grace said. “The issue is no longer whether the cable industry will adopt
open access policies. We can now focus on implementation.”

Grace said that voluntary agreements are a feasible way to satisfy the
demand in Massachusetts for consumer choice policies. The Mass Coalition
collected more than 100,000 signatures and earned the support from many
prominent Massachusetts residents and organizations for passage of its
initiative petition.

AT&T was urged to open access to its cable facilities by state
Sens. Michael Morrissey and David Magnani, and state Reps.
Daniel Bosley and Arthur Broadhurst Jr. in April. The legislators
recommended that AT&T and the coalition to reach a compromise, rather than
endure the expense and legal uncertainties of a ballot initiative campaign.

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