Access Issue Sizzles in L.A.

Author:
Updated:
Original:

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

The council's Information Technology and General Services
committee 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 reportedly
echoed the sentiment stated earlier this year by the staff members of the city's
Information Technology Agency. Both reports concluded that regulation of Internet access
is not necessary at this time.

But the issue has become a political hot potato. Earlier
this summer, the majority of the board of Information Technology Commissioners refused to
vote on the staff report, citing what they said was political pressure from Mayor Richard
Riordan.

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Moran, co-chairman of the local Hispanic Heritage
Month celebration and principal in a temporary staffing-services firm, expressed concern
that regulation would slow deployment of high-speed technology, especially to the neediest
neighborhoods.

Pat Means, founder of African-American Turning Point
Magazine
, noted that telephone companies' digital-subscriber-line technology is
available mostly to businesses and high-end residential areas so far, and competition
could persuade the telcos to do more.

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

The coalition -- which includes AT&T Corp., MCI
WorldCom Inc. and the Telephone Resellers Association -- seeks consumer opposition to
several bills before the House and Senate. It believes those bills include loopholes that
would allow regional Bell operating companies to get into long-distance data delivery
before 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 to
competition by February 2001. Telephone companies that resist unbundling would be forced
to sell off their networks by February 2003.

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

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

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

Adelphia executives reacted predictably, arguing that it
would 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 the
Buffalo suburbs.

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

Related