News

Colo. Officials Back Access Play

10/03/1999 8:00 PM Eastern

Denver -- The open-access debate swirling around cable has
filtered down to Colorado's Western Slope.

A group of 20 municipal and county officials recently
passed a resolution supporting a local Internet-service provider's bid for
leased-access carriage on the AT&T Broadband & Internet Services network in
Durango, Colo.

The "Club 20" board of directors also came out in
favor of open access to cable's broadband pipe, urging the Federal Communications
Commission to require that operators "open their wires" to competitors that are
willing to pay "fair compensation."

The resolution said content provided by ISPs satisfies the
definition of video programming in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, making it eligible
for leased-access carriage under FCC rules.

Internet Ventures Inc., the parent company of the ISP in
question, has asked the FCC to declare that data transmission is tantamount to video
programming for leased-access purposes. The cable industry opposes that interpretation,
and several operators, including AT&T Broadband, have rejected leased-access requests
from IVI.

Club 20 acted over the protests of AT&T Broadband,
which called open access "one of the most onerous regulations the government can
impose on a private company." Furthermore, the company warned that imposition of
leased access would endanger its plans to spend $25 million on upgrading its Western Slope
facilities.

Club 20 treasurer Orville Petersen said the coalition chose
to act after learning that a local ISP, Frontier Internet, had been granted access by
Hermosa Cablevision, a small operator in Hermosa, Colo. Meanwhile, a similar request to
the former Tele-Communications Inc. system in nearby Durango had been rejected.

"TCI just laughs at you and says, 'Not on your
life,'" Petersen said. "So people [with Club 20] said, 'OK, maybe this
is something we should look into.'"

In a recent interview with The Durango Herald, Ros
Hawks, principal owner of the 1,000-subscriber system in Hermosa, said providing leased
access to Frontier made sense.

"[Internet access] is one of those things you see the
big companies reserve for themselves," he told The Herald. "We're
not interested in doing it ourselves, so when Frontier came to us, we said, 'Why
not?' A small system like ours has to be on the cutting edge, or we'll be left
behind."

Prior to the Club 20 vote, Frank Galik, general manager of
AT&T Broadband's TCI Cablevision of Western Colorado, responded with a letter
claiming that "forced access" would slow the deployment of broadband technology
in the region.

"Unfortunately, by discouraging new investments like
AT&T's, the Club 20 resolution on forced access will do exactly that, leaving the
Western Slope with just one monopoly provider with little incentive to invest or provide
good customer service," Galik wrote.

In a prepared statement, Redondo Beach, Calif.-based IVI,
which owns Frontier, applauded the coalition's support, calling it proof that
"supporters of competitive broadband access are emerging."

"We find particular significance in the Club 20
resolution as a symbol of the frustration of rural citizens," IVI president Don Janke
said. "Even in Colorado, the 'capital of cable,' residents and
decision-makers have decided that competition is critical to providing true consumer
choice."

Petersen predicted that AT&T Broadband is fighting a
losing battle against open access, noting that the telcos are required to open up their
networks to competitors. "If we're going to require that one network be open,
than the other one should be, too," he said.

He noted that rural electrical cooperatives spending $40
million to put in a fiber optic network in rural Colorado have already indicated that they
will open the system to all comers.

"Their first customer was AT&T," he said.
"But at the same time, AT&T claims it would be bad for them to open their
network. Well, what's good for the goose is good for the gander."

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