Access Issue Sizzles in L.A.

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Los Angeles -- Open access continues to be a hot topichere, with a City Council committee postponing a vote on the issue in favor of yet anotherpublic hearing.

The council's Information Technology and General Servicescommittee was set to vote last week on a recommendation to be sent to the full council,but the committee clerk said the issue was continued.

A staff report prepared by council analysts reportedlyechoed the sentiment stated earlier this year by the staff members of the city'sInformation Technology Agency. Both reports concluded that regulation of Internet accessis not necessary at this time.

But the issue has become a political hot potato. Earlierthis summer, the majority of the board of Information Technology Commissioners refused tovote on the staff report, citing what they said was political pressure from Mayor RichardRiordan.

The next stop for the report was the City Councilcommittee, then chaired by Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who expressed interest inregulating the cable-modem platform.

He lost his seat as chair of the council committee, though,when the mayor switched committee chairmanships following councilmanic elections earlierthis year. A freshman councilman and Riordan ally now heads the body.

Political support for regulation continues in the face ofheavy lobbying both ways.

The latest organization to offer its view was a newlyformed Southern California chapter of Hands Off the Internet. Local members include JoelFox, former president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association (the organization thatsupported a landmark initiative in the 1980s to freeze California property taxes).

The local Hands Off members stressed the negative impact onLos Angeles' minority communities if open access is required.

Frank Moran, co-chairman of the local Hispanic HeritageMonth celebration and principal in a temporary staffing-services firm, expressed concernthat regulation would slow deployment of high-speed technology, especially to the neediestneighborhoods.

Pat Means, founder of African-American Turning PointMagazine, noted that telephone companies' digital-subscriber-line technology isavailable mostly to businesses and high-end residential areas so far, and competitioncould persuade the telcos to do more.

Meanwhile, the Competitive Broadband Coalition is airing TVand radio ads featuring former Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) in 20 markets across theUnited States.

The coalition -- which includes AT&T Corp., MCIWorldCom Inc. and the Telephone Resellers Association -- seeks consumer opposition toseveral bills before the House and Senate. It believes those bills include loopholes thatwould allow regional Bell operating companies to get into long-distance data deliverybefore the local loop opens for competition.

The coalition's pet bill, authored by Sen. Ernest Hollings(D-S.C.), would penalize local-exchange carriers that don't open their lines tocompetition by February 2001. Telephone companies that resist unbundling would be forcedto sell off their networks by February 2003.

The open-access debate also gained momentum last week afterofficials in Buffalo, N.Y., said they would look at the controversial issue.

On Oct. 28, the Buffalo Common Council will hold a publichearing on whether Internet-service providers should have unfettered access to cable'sbroadband pipe.

Adopting such a policy would make Adelphia CommunicationsCorp. -- Buffalo's incumbent operator and the owner of the Buffalo Sabres National HockeyLeague team -- the third major MSO to be dragged into the contentious argument.

Adelphia executives reacted predictably, arguing that itwould be "inappropriate" for Buffalo to require "forced access."

However, in a significant break with the industry line,they stopped well short of predicting that the MSO would refuse to roll out the high-speed"Power Link" Internet service it's introducing to 200,000 subscribers in theBuffalo suburbs.

"We haven't even considered that strategy. I thinkwe'd want to take a look at the whole picture," said Bob Wahl, the MSO's vicepresident of operations for the Great Lakes region.

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