Access Debate Hits D.C.

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Washington -- The argument over access to cable's
broadband pipe dominated the debate at the Strategic Research Institute's annual
Cable/Telco Franchising and Competition Conference here.

Federal regulators, local franchising authorities and legal
experts took turns making their case before a packed house at a hotel here last Thursday.

Deborah Lathen, head of the Federal Communications
Commission's Cable Services Bureau, defended chairman William Kennard's decision
to back AT&T Corp.'s appeal of a district-court ruling allowing two Oregon LFAs
to require nondiscriminatory access to the Excite@Home Internet service.

"We firmly believe this a national issue and we need a
national policy," Lathen said, "but having 30,000 LFAs regulating in this area
is not good for national policy."

Howard J. Symons, a cable attorney with Mintz, Levin, Cohn,
Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, said the FCC's "hands-off policy" reflects a
broadband market where "everyone is a new entrant."

"To look at a marketplace and decide that there is not
a need for appropriate government action is not an abdication of responsibility," he
said. "It's a reasonable, rational and appropriate conclusion on the facts as
presented."

Symons said the FCC acted similarly 20 years ago when it
took jurisdiction over enhanced services, then decided no regulation was necessary,

"It turned out to be the correct policy," he
added. "It formed the basis for the growth of enhanced services -- the information
services we enjoy today."

However, some said Kennard would need a "creative
argument" if he hopes to convince the appeals court while preserving his own
authority.

"You can't go to the Ninth Circuit and say the
locals don't have jurisdiction and avoid the question, 'Why do the feds have
jurisdiction?'" said Nick Miller, managing partner of Miller & Van Eaton, a
firm specializing in municipal issues. "Does he really want to be in that
position?"

Jane Lawton, president of the National Association of
Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, said attempts to unbundle cable's networks
are not "regulatory, as much as pro-competitive."

She added, "We're actually hearing from people.
We're being put on the dime to actually act at the local level, because our citizens
are coming in and telling us that our local economies are going to have less stimulation
if they have to use just one ISP [Internet-service provider], or just one cable
company."

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