The Pittsburgh, Penn. City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to make open access a
condition of its local cable franchise’s license renewal.
For the first time since the battle for open access began in Portland,
Ore., AT&T Cable Services has accepted
the local government provision in order to renew its local cable
franchise, rather than transfer ownership of a cable license.
The franchise agreement gives Pittsburgh “most-favored nation” status with
regard to cable modem access provision: It requires AT&T to give
unaffiliated Internet service providers nondiscriminatory access to its
cable modem platform in Pittsburgh if it does so in any other locality.
According to AT&T representatives, Pittsburgh did not decide to force AT&T
to open its cable-modem platform to competitive ISPs, but has reserved its
rights to reconsider the provion at a later date. In turn AT&T agreed to
ensure that its cable-modem customers in Pittsburgh will not be
disadvantaged in relation to what AT&T provides in other cities.
James M. Mazur, AT&T Cable Services regional vice president, said the
company was happy with the agreement reached in Pittsburgh.
“We are thrilled with the agreement, which will allow us to begin creating
an advanced cable network for the City of Pittsburgh and its residents,”
Mazur commended the city negotiators, saying they worked hard to hammer out
the best possible agreement for the city.
“Their knowledge and commitment were outstanding. I am particularly
grateful for the leadership of Councilman Dan Cohen, who provided insight
and advice to the city’s negotiating team as well as managing the issue in
council,” Masseur said.
Cohen, Pittsburgh City councilman, said the municipality was equally
pleased with their agreement with AT&T.
“As a result of this long and arduous process, the City of Pittsburgh will
have an asset vital to its growth in the next century, and its residents
will enjoy the benefits of state-of-the-art telecommunications technology,”
Cohen said. “We are pleased with the agreement and look forward to AT&T’s
partnership relationship with the City of Pittsburgh going forward.”
Dan Garfinkel, AT&T regional director of communication, said the Pittsburgh
City Council’s decision to approve the new 10-year cable franchise
agreement with AT&T Cable Services was the result of more than a year of
negotiations, which included two public hearings.
“The cable franchise agreement with the City of Pittsburgh is a complex
70-page document that includes one page concerning forced access,”
Garfinkel said. “Mandatory access was not the primary focus of the agreement.”
Garfinkel said that the issue of forced access to AT&T cable systems would
be resolved long before the City of Pittsburgh would ever consider invoking
the forced access clause in the agreement.
“The city did not mandate open access,” Garfinkel said. “It states that if
AT&T Cable Services enters into an agreement to open access with any
franchise authority in the U.S., or the FCC orders open access nationwide,
or a final judgement is issued in court that we must open access, then we
have 60-days to negotiate what happens in Pittsburgh.”
If one of the provisions are invoked by Pittsburgh and AT&T and the city
could not reach an agreement, the matter would be eventually settled in court.
Garfinkel said AT&T’s decision to accept the franchise agreement is
completely consistent with what the company has said before the deal was
attained and the franchise agreement is not impacted by the company’s
exclusive contract with [email protected]
“Right now there are zero customers accessing the Internet through cable
modems in Pittsburgh,” Garfinkel said. “AT&T Cable Services is investing
$40 million in the City of Pittsburgh, and $300 million in the region to
upgraded fiber-optic based cable system over the next two and
a-half years. By then, the @Home contract will have expired and we will
bring broadband cable access to more than 570,000 region.”
AT&T cable deployment plans are scheduled to introduce cable modem access
to some areas of Pittsburgh by this time next year. The franchise agreement
includes provisions for enumerated and enforceable customer service
standards and promises to deploy cable services to all neighborhoods in the
city allowing for high-speed access to any site on the Internet in a
Local regulators in Broward County, Fla., Henrico County and Fairfax City,
Va., King County, Wash., Portland, Ore., Los Angeles and San Francisco have each
considered making open access a provision to their local cable license
transfers. But Pittsburgh becomes first local government in the U.S. to
require that AT&T Cable Service share its cable system with competing
Internet service providers in order to renew its local license.
The openNET Coalition
represents more than 900 ISPs nationwide in their fight to gain access to
closed cable networks. Rich Bond, openNET Coalition co-director, said AT&T
will need to stand firm on their agreement to open access to their cable
systems in Pittsburgh, and throughout the U.S.
“AT&T was forced to accept a self-executing, non-discriminatory open access
provision,” Bond said. “If AT&T voluntarily or involuntarily signs an open
access agreement with any other governmental entity or becomes subject to
an open access requirement anywhere else in the United States, it must
offer the same terms to Internet service providers operating in Pittsburgh.”
Bond added that the real winner of the open access debate in Pittsburgh,
would be the community of online consumers demanding broadband access to
Peter Arnold, Hands Off the
Internet executive director, said accepting the most-favored nation
clause in the Pittsburgh franchise agreement was not a policy shift on open
access from AT&T.
“It’s basically the same fundamental policy decision that other localities
have made,” Arnold said. “There’s no broken ground in the Pittsburgh
Arnold testified at a Pittsburgh hearing on the franchise agreement in
mid-December. The group advocates an unregulated approach to Internet access.