Access Fans Urge Officials to Act Up


Los Angeles -- Since the federal government declines to
act, local governments must pick up the "mantle of openness," open-access
boosters told a luncheon audience here last week.

David Olson, director of cable communications and franchise
management for Portland, Ore., along with officials from St. Louis and Fairfax, Va., told
attendees at "Town Hall Los Angeles" that without regulation, high-speed-data
platforms will resemble the "calcified closed system" of telephony before the
breakup of AT&T Corp.

"Open access is the only way to ensure speed and
competition," Fairfax City Councilman R. Scott Silverthorne said.

"At the core, the issue is quite simple: With open
access, consumers are empowered and protected. Closed, they'll be exploited,"
St. Louis Alderman Lewis Reed added.

Afterward, the representatives scheduled a private meeting
with Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Padilla. Los Angeles has yet to vote on access. A
staff report, which the speakers called "already dated," declared regulation to
be premature.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, AT&T continued its bid to
overturn the city's new access ordinance. It submitted 12,000 signatures to the Board
of Election Commissioners to attempt to force the city's Board of Aldermen to
reconsider. Only 4,102 signatures were needed to keep the petition alive.

Access proponents complained that AT&T was promising
that the repeal would drive down cable and telephone rates.

Once signatures are verified, AT&T will have 30 days to
produce 14,357 names, or 7 percent of registered voters in the last mayoral election, to
force aldermen to reconsider the ordinance. Last week, AT&T said it would swap its
area subscribers to Charter Communications.

In Massachusetts, MediaOne Group Inc. filed its second
appeal with the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy, asking the agency to
overturn a transfer denial by the city of Cambridge.

The MSO said city manager Robert W. Healy tried to
unilaterally amend the company's license by requiring nondiscriminatory access.

In a related move, Harvard School of Law professor Charles
Nesson, an open-access proponent, offered free legal assistance to four Massachusetts
communities fighting to unbundle cable networks.

His first client will likely be North Andover, Mass., which
voted last week to have its legal-advisory subcommittee consult with Nesson on the
city's recent decision to require open access in exchange for transferring its
MediaOne license.