Big Cable Is Becoming the Big Story

Jumping into the pool of controversy over cable access is quickly becoming the summer sport du jour. After spending big bucks to scarf up cable lines, AT&T has no interest in letting other providers muscle in on its turf. ISPs, with AOL carrying the banner, say consumer fairness dictates that AT&T let them pay to access the lines and thereby offer better services to their own customers. Big profits versus fairness? Might as well be capitalism versus motherhood and apple pie. Sniffing opportunity, politicos of all levels as well as bureaucrats, business executives and consumer advocates -- not to mention the media - have dived into the fray.

The Wall Street Journal rehashed FCC Chairman William Kennard's quandary in a story run under the Politics and Policy banner. Online outlets were more aggressive. ZDNet's Matthew Broersma and Joel Deane reported that, after local debates in Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles, San Francisco is set to vote on an open-access measure as early as next Monday.

The FCC's Kennard has dipped his toe in the access waters but declined to leap in with a decision. Meanwhile, the controversy is finding a national stage in the halls of Congress. Rep. Ed Markey is set to introduce a resolution next week calling for the FCC to treat cable access as it does telecommunications. Read: pry the thing wide open. Reps. Billy Tauzin and John Dingell have filed a competing measure that would keep cable's broadband networks closed to other ISPs but allow telephone companies new leeway in controlling their own high-speed data services, according to's John Borland.

CBS MarketWatch's Michael Collins waxed dramatic on access in The Gadfly column: "There's a very serious issue at stake here. We're talking about nothing less than how many of us will have access to information in the future, and who gets all the money we will pay to get that access." He added that we've seen this kind of fight before. AOL and other ISPs want into the cable market "and they've gone running to the government seeking help - kind of the way cable operators did when faced with competition from direct satellite."

Despite the growing interest on Capitol Hill in what Borland called a "legislative pigpile," he wrote that few Washington insiders, including Markey, think significant legislation will succeed anytime soon. "At the end of the day, I don't think it's likely that any legislation will pass heading in either direction over the next year and a half," Markey told Borland.

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