OpenNET Coalition Continues Push for Broadband Competition

As senators prepare for a hearing Tuesday on the state of broadband Internet access, an industry group is urging legislators to do all they can to preserve competition in the market.

The openNET Coalition Monday delivered a letter to members of the Senate Commerce Committee calling on the group to take steps to ensure that independent ISPs aren’t frozen out of the market as broadband Internet access spreads.

Currently, customers are often tied into one company regardless of whether they go with cable modems or Digital Subscriber Line technology because relatively few markets across the country have more than one company providing high-speed Internet access. That’s in stark contrast to the dial-up Internet access market, which has many competitors even in small markets.

“We are calling on Congress to preserve consumer choice and competition in the broadband marketplace by simply ensuring that all ISPs — whether they are independent or whether they are affiliated with cable — have the chance to purchase non-discriminatory access to the last-mile cable line,” the group wrote.

America Online Inc. has been among the companies pushing for open access. AOL Chairman Steve Case is set to testify before the group this week, renewing his push to gain access to cable and DSL subscribers.

The openNet Coalition is charging that cable companies want to force consumers to buy all the content, navigation and e-mail services from them even if they have an ISP they want to keep. Cable companies, on the other hand, maintain they do not prohibit their customers from signing up for other services — including AOL, whose content can be accessed over any TCP/IP connection.

“What will this mean?,” the group asked in the letter. “For consumers: fewer choices and higher costs. For the Internet: Less innovation, slower growth and reduced competition. (Those are) results exactly the opposite of what was envisioned in passing the Telecommunications Act of 1996.”

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