DENVER -- Advocates of unbundling cable's broadband pipe
saw their chances for a November referendum on the contentious issue washed away here last
A protest filed against a proposed open-access ballot
question here has assured that a new franchise for AT&T Broadband & Internet
Services will go unopposed on the Nov. 2 ballot.
An alliance of five Internet-service providers had
requested the initiative in hopes that voters would require AT&T Broadband to resell
broadband capacity to other ISPs, allowing them to use the high-speed network it plans for
The measure was torpedoed, though, when three area
businessmen filed a protest with the Denver Election Commission, triggering a 50-day
period in which the agency must hold a hearing on the
validity of the grievance.
With a Sept. 8 deadline for setting what goes on the
November ballot, the filing effectively sunk the proposed initiative, commission director
Bill Compton said.
Even if the commission completed its work early and found
the protest invalid, the City Council -- which supports the AT&T Broadband franchise
-- would still have 45 days to act.
"There's no way this is going to be settled by Sept.
8," Compton said.
The protest alleged that the ISP proposal is
unconstitutional because it applies to just one company. It also claimed that hundreds of
signatures submitted to the commission were invalid.
Ironically, one of the businessmen filing the protest,
Theodore A. Pinkowitz, is president of Denver-based ISP E.Central.
"I think his view is that if he built a network like
AT&T's, although on a smaller scale, he wouldn't want to be told to let his
competitors on it," said Richard S. Bjurstrom, spokesman for the trio.
Bjurstrom added that he objected to the special referendum
because he felt that U S West -- which leads the ISP group seeking open access -- was
trying to "muscle" the election process.
"It's taking a route not available to smaller groups
that don't have its clout," he said.
The local ISPs had already been dealt one setback when the
city attorney's office ruled that their request was filed too late for the upcoming
The group -- which argued that it did not see the franchise
until the filing date had passed -- was gearing up last week to campaign against AT&T
Broadband's new deal.
"We're going to try to convince voters that it's bad
for consumers," spokesman Mark Stutz said. "And we're moving ahead with other
options, which could include litigation."
In a related development, the Ninth Circuit Court of
Appeals has set oral arguments in AT&T Corp.'s open-access case against Oregon's
Portland and Multnomah counties for Oct. 6 in Seattle.
AT&T wants to overturn a lower-court ruling upholding
an attempt by the local franchise authorities to require access to Excite@Home's network
for unaffiliated ISPs.
Meanwhile, the OpenNet Coalition -- a group of ISPs pushing
open access nationwide -- tried a new tack last week by asking the Federal Communications
Commission to reject AT&T's acquisition of MediaOne Group Inc.
It said the FCC must determine that AT&T would not use
its resulting market power to undermine competitors. It also noted that the deal would
give the MSO an interest in systems servicing 65 percent of all U.S. cable households,
along with programming stakes in Liberty Media Group and Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.
Jim McGann, an AT&T spokesman, said the company would
respond when it files its merger comment with the FCC.
"But we see this deal as overwhelmingly
pro-competitive," he added. "And we don't think it's good public policy for the
FCC, or any agency, to regulate at this point in time."
Meanwhile, OpenNet continued to maintain that the cities of
Boston; Dayton, Ohio; Richmond, Va.; and Minneapolis would be next to address open access
-- statements that came as news to officials in those communities.
In Dayton, cable administrator Tim Strach said he was
"all for it," but added that there were no plans to pursue open access.
Edie French, head of the Minneapolis Cable Office, said it
would be an "overstatement" to say it was being considered. "We've
discussed it," she said, "but what person involved in the cable industry
However, a Pennsylvania coalition, which includes Bell
Atlantic Corp. and GTE Corp., has threatened to add the open-access issue to the debate
over whether AT&T should be allowed into the local telephone business.
Dr. David Wright, president of Pennsylvanians for TOTAL
Competition and a 20-year veteran of the legislature, said it was hypocritical for
AT&T to ask the state's Public Utilities Commission to force local-
exchange carriers to open their networks to competition
unless AT&T is unwilling to open its own broadband platform to other ISPs.
"As a result of AT&T's closed system, consumers
will be restricted to one Internet provider, one cable provider and one long-distance
company, thereby leading to higher prices," he said.
As an example, the coalition noted that cable rates in some
Pennsylvania communities, such as Allegheny County, have risen between $1 and $6 per month
since AT&T bought Tele-Communications Inc.
Wright said the coalition would raise the open-access issue
in local communities as they consider the transfer of MediaOne properties to AT&T. MCN