San Francisco Approaches Open Access With Caution

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors have amended the city’s
franchise agreement with AT&T Corp. to
include a provision that will allow the city to impose open access rules.

The Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 late Monday to approve AT&T’s $48 billion
acquisition of Tele-Communications Inc.
in San Francisco. But the board also withheld the right to reconsider open access when an Oregon court involving the issue is decided in
October.

The city officials plan to review the issue of open access to cable
networks again in December, when its franchise agreement allows it to
unilaterally impose open access.

By passing a non-binding resolution calling for non-discriminatory access to broadband services, local officials required the city to monitor the broadband marketplace as the industry matures.

The board further agreed that the city would file a friend-of-the-court
brief in support of Portland, Ore.’s battle against AT&T Corp. in the
federal courts.

Last month, a Portland federal judge ruled city officials could require
AT&T to open its lines to competitors there. That decision has prompted a several local governments to try and impose the same restrictions.

Lois Hedg-peth, AT&T western regional president, said that the real winners in the battle over mandatory access to cable networks were San Franciso Bay area consumers.

“Today’s decision is a real win for San Francisco residents. City officials
did the right thing for consumers,” Hedg-peth said. “The vote to approve
the cable franchise transfer to AT&T means San Francisco will have a real choice for local telephone service, high-speed access to the Internet and enhanced cable programming over a single cable line.”

Hedg-peth said AT&T is anxious to begin the work and make a $50 million
investment to upgrade San Francisco’s cable system.

“We look forward to working with city officials on an in-depth study of the
developments affecting high-speed Internet access services. Most cities
that have engaged in such a study are recognizing that letting the
marketplace grow and develop is the best way to ensure broad deployment of these new services at competitive and affordable prices.”

San Francisco’s vote partially follows similar trends in Portland, Oregon,
and Broward County, Florida, requiring AT&T to sell open access to its
high-speed cable network.

In related news, AT&T Monday filed a federal lawsuit against Broward
County, Fla., in a bid to overturn the county’s decision requiring the
company to open its high-speed Internet service to competitors.

Mark Rosenblum, AT&T vice president, said the county lacked authority to
impose the open-access condition on its cable network. Rosenblum added that cable access is merely an alternative form of Internet access and the
technology should not be subject to monopolistic scrutiny.

“New cable services like Internet access and local telephone service give consumers more choice, not less.”

John Raposa, GTE associate general council, said that GTE may provide legal assistance to the Broward County Board.

“They have a small county attorney office,” Raposa said. “We wanted to
offer them with the financial support they will need to effectively respond
to the vast array of high priced lawyers AT&T will throw at this.”

The openNET Coalition hailed
San Franciso’s adoption of an open access policy. Greg Simon, openNET
Coalition co-director, said local officials possess provincial wisdom when
determining who would have access to local cable networks.

“From Northern California to Southern Florida, communities are taking a
stand and voting for what is best for their citizens,” Simon said. “San
Francisco officials understand the importance of open access and that’s why they are supporting Portland.”

[email protected] issued a brief statement in
support of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approval of the transfer
of TCI’s cable franchise license to AT&T.

However, Matt Wolfrom, [email protected] spokesperson also noted that the Federal Communications Commission
recommended that local officials follow a hands-off policy toward cable
access issues until the market evolves.

“Having studied the matter extensively, the FCC and staff of the City of
Los Angeles have concluded that non-intervention by local governments in
the nascent broadband market is in the best interests of both consumers and
the industry.”

Wolfrom added that the “marketplace is producing more choices and lower
prices far more effectively than government regulation of the Internet
would do.”

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