Abernathy Affirms Support for Access Parity

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Federal Communications Commission member Kathleen Abernathy -- a critical
vote in deciding whether cable operators are forced to carry competing
Internet-service providers -- affirmed her support Wednesday for Internet-access
rules that apply equally to cable operators and phone companies.

'It would be hard to justify significant difference in the regulatory
treatment when you categorize both of them as information services,' Abernathy
told reporters in her office.

The FCC has classified cable-modem service as an information service and
tentatively concluded that digital-subscriber-line service provided by phone
companies is also an information service.

Traditionally, information-service providers have not been regulated under
Title I of the Telecommunications Act.

Although phone companies must currently comply with access rules, cable
operators do not have to. The FCC is studying whether to retain the status quo,
to apply access rules to both industries, or to allow both to compete without
access requirements.

Whether the FCC applies access rules to cable would depend on market
conditions -- primarily whether cable operators are carrying unaffiliated
Internet-access providers, she said.

'I think it's very good news that the cable-modem providers have started to
negotiate for voluntary access arrangements, and that will be a piece of the
information you look at when you ask yourself how is the public interest served
here,' Abernathy said.

But she stressed that after studying the market, the FCC would be
hard-pressed to establish access rules that did not treat broadband services by
cable and phone companies alike.

'Your public-interest analysis has to be consistent across both platforms
because they are both now Title I information services,' she said.

FCC chairman Michael Powell and commissioner Kevin Martin -- both Republicans
-- have repeatedly expressed opposition to applying common-carrier mandates to
cable. But Democratic commissioner Michael Copps supports a forced-access
regime.

If Abernathy eventually sides with Copps, the FCC would be deadlocked and the
tie wouldn't be broken until the fifth seat on the commission, vacant since
Sept. 7, is filled by President Bush and the Senate.

But Bush's selection -- Jonathan Adelstein, an aide to Senate Majority Leader
Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) -- is being blocked by Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott
(R-Miss.).

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