Former FCC Chairman Stands with Cable Companies

Reed Hundt, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), weighed in on the open access debate today, saying cable companies shouldn't be forced to open their networks to rival ISPs (Internet service providers).

Cable networks are seen by many as the next great hope for making broadband Internet access widely available to consumers and small businesses. Because the networks are owned by a relatively small number of large firms, ISPs including America Online Inc. (AOL) argue that they should be allowed to lease network space to offer competing broadband services.

"I'd say to AOL (that) the government shaped the data world you were successful in. Well, that's the end of it -- you don't get any more breaks," Hundt said, speaking at the Unwired Universe conference on wireless Internet access, which takes place here this week.

"If AT&T (Corp.) is trying to put money into cable to build real interactivity into their networks ... you don't then decide that the government needs to dictate the terms and conditions of its interconnections," Hundt said. AT&T Corp. owns cable giants Tele-Communications Inc. and Media One Group.

Hundt's views are in agreement with those of his successor, William Kennard, who in a recent speech said the FCC is leaning towards a hands-off approach to regulation of cable Internet access. Hundt's own views no longer carry any regulatory weight, but as the official who oversaw the introduction of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 his opinions continue to attract some interest.

Hundt is now a senior advisor with management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, and a principal with consulting and investment advice company Charles Ross Partners LLC.