Democrat Puts Legislative Squeeze on AT&T

The squeeze on AT&T Corp. to provide its competitors with open access to its broadband cable network shows no signs of loosening as regulatory efforts kick into gear this week.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), ranking Democrat of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, next week will submit a concurrent resolution to the House of Representatives calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to treat cable Internet-access network services as telecommunications services.

This would mean requiring open access, as mandated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, to AT&T's broadband cable systems.

"Any attempt by large corporate owners of the broadband wire to warp an open Internet platform into a more closed system could create a discriminatory corporate filter for cyberspace," wrote Rep. Markey in a letter to FCC Chairman William Kennard.

In addition, local regulatory efforts continue, as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote this week on a similar resolution to require cable companies to provide "nondiscriminatory access by unaffiliated Internet and other online service providers to the broadband cable network."

AT&T already took some punches last month, as a federal district court decision in Oregon ruled in favor of open access.

In addition, GTE announced research efforts indicating that cable modem systems can easily be operated on an open-access basis. (See "GTE pushes for `open access' to cable networks," www.infoworld.com/articles/en/xml/990615engte.xml.)Additionally, openNet Coalition, which consists of ISPs (see chart), is throwing around its lobbying weight, pressuring regulatory bodies to recognize the importance of open access to broadband competition.

"Regardless of the transport, a customer should be able to choose among different providers," said Dave Baker, vice president of legal and regulatory affairs at MindSpring Enterprises, in Atlanta.

Tom Jenkins, an analyst at TeleChoice, in Verona, N.J., agreed, saying, "There's really no reason to have different rules for cable manufacturers. The infrastructure should not be the determining factor."

"You can't separate voice and data anymore. Internet access is looked at [by the FCC] as a separate entity, and it's really not; they're still looking at it like it's 1976," said Rosemary Cochran, an analyst at the Vertical Systems Group, in Dedham, Mass.

However, one analyst said that open-access demands are a bit premature.

"The issue from a policy perspective is do you really want to start adding legislation to regulate the Internet on broadband space when the market is still in its embryonic stages?" said Michael Harris, president of Kinetic Strategies, in Phoenix.

AT&T was not available to comment.

AT&T Corp., in Basking Ridge, N.J., is at www.att.com. Cox Communications Inc., in Atlanta, is at www.cox.com.

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More about AT&TCox CommunicationsFCCFederal Communications CommissionGTEHouse Telecommunications SubcommitteeKinetic StrategiesMindSpringMindSpring EnterprisesOpen AccessPhoenixSystems GroupTeleChoiceVertical Systems Group

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