The national debate about open access to cable networks debate began on
Dec. 17, 1998. The City of
Portland and Multnomah
County in conjunction with the Mt. Hood
Cable Regulatory Commission, voted to approve its local cable license
transfer from TCI to AT&T Corp., provided
that AT&T (T)
grant nondiscriminatory access to its cable modem platform.
Late in May 1999, U.S. District Judge Owen Panner upheld the local
government’s ruling and instructed AT&T to comply with the order. The court
rejected AT&T’s argument that federal law prohibits city and county
officials from forcing the company to open its cable network facilities to
competing Internet service providers.
AT&T contested the district court order and appealed to the U.S. Ninth
Circuit Court for relief. Oral arguments were heard on the case Nov. 1,
But, something interesting is happening in Portland while and the cable
industry waits to hear the decision from the Ninth Circuit Court. Open
market competition to provide high-speed Internet services is in the
process of coming to Portland.
The Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission late Thursday held a public
hearing to being reviewing four companies requests for cable franchises in
the City of Portland.
Erik Sten, Portland city commissioner said, his worst fear was that AT&T
would make good on its threat to deploy broadband cable access to Portland.
Rather than delaying deployment of broadband services, Portland’s open
access mandate motivated AT&T’s competitors to request outbuilding the
areas high-speed network.
“Originally, I feared that AT&T would hold the city hostage and Portland
would have sub-standard broadband cable services,” Sten said. “Instead,
because we opened the cable market, new companies are coming to town with
Sten predicts that in one year, Portland will have a world class broadband
network and consumers will have their choice of high-speed access providers.
“With four cable license requests to overbuild the Portland network, I
predict that one year from now Portland will have greater broadband
competition and citizens will have greater choice than municipalities that
decided not to issue local open access orders,” Sten said.
Michael Steinkirchner, WideOpenWest vice-president of marketing, agreed
with Commissioner Sten’s rosy outlook for Portland’s high-speed access future.
“Typically it takes us one year from the date that a cable franchise is
issued to bring our first customers on board,” Steinkirchner said. “Based
on the hearings last night, things are looking good for our approval to
move forward in Portland.”
WideOpenWest is in the process of building high capacity broadband fiber
optic networks in Jefferson County, Colo. and the metropolitan areas of
Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth, Texas. It intends to offer high-speed
connections to the Internet and digital cable television services in
several Western markets.
WOW is also committed to open access. Steinkirchner said discussions to
offer ISPs transport over its cable systems is already underway.
Commissioner Sten said there is no way of knowing when the Ninth Circuit
Court will issue a ruling on its case.
Regardless of AT&T’s appeal and
resulting network upgrade delay, Portland is winning the battle to bring
competitive broadband services to the area.
“Winning on principle is great,” Sten said. “But you have to have broadband
access to the Internet.”
Sten added that no matter what the Ninth Circuit Court decides about
Portland’s pending case, sometime in the very near future Congress must
address cable laws and related Internet-issues.
“At issue is the Cable Act of 1996,” Sten said. “It does not speak to
Internet over cable, unless federal government expressly pre-empts local
authority, local laws rule.”
“Sometime in the future Congress will have to update cable laws to include
Internet access and related issues,” Sten said.