The tally of states addressing open access mushroomed to 14
last week, leaving state cable groups scrambling to quash efforts instigated in many cases
by regional Bell operating companies.
According to the National Cable Television Association,
virtually identical bills have been introduced in Delaware, Vermont, Maryland, Idaho,
Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. There is a different
quirk in the Delaware language: It includes a misdemeanor provision for violations of open
Massachusetts will address the issue with a ballot
Four states previously addressed and rejected the effort:
Utah, New Hampshire, Virginia and Maryland. Open access was included in a larger bill
proffered by U S West in Utah, but the provision has already been dropped.
State cable associations are plumping for fights on
multiple fronts. "State associations have made this their No. 1, 2 and 3
priority," NCTA senior vice president of association affairs Jadz Janucik said.
The associations continue to stress that the laws are not
consumer-driven, but backed by competitors in a effort to hamper cable investments.
New Hampshire lobbyists were spooked when the issue was
raised by a competitive local-exchange carrier and carried by a legislator with a
technology-related Ph.D. But the cable industry brought out its big guns, including an
Excite@Home Corp. executive who is a former New Hampshire legislator. The bill failed in
committee by a 14-3 vote.
Virginia operators were also fortunate, watching as the
House of Delegates' Corporation, Insurance and Banking Committee voted 5-1 to carry
over until next year an open-access bill backed by GTE Corp. and Bell Atlantic Corp. The
lone vote in favor came from the bill's author, Rep. William P. Robinson (D-Norfolk).
An identical bill set to come before the full Senate
Commerce and Labor Committee last Thursday was not expected to fare much better.
The bill would have allowed Internet-service providers to
sue cable operators that refused to unbundle their networks, while giving the state
attorney general and local franchising authorities the power to require open access.
"From all of the legislators I've talked to, it
seems that they consider this a very technical issue, and not one they want to get into
this year," Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association president Kathryn Falk
Falk called the proposal unfair, since it only targets
cable operators, while ignoring the fact that 18 out of 20 LFAs that have been asked to
consider franchise transfers in Virginia have rejected open-access clauses.
GTE Corp. convinced Rep. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston) to
introduce the bill in Illinois, but cable lobbyists expect no movement on the issue this
The telecommunications portion of the state's Public
Utilities Act is about to sunset, and legislators are about to embark on an 18-month-long
policy review, according to Gary Maher, president of the Cable Television and
Telecommunications Association of Illinois.
"No one's interested in piecemeal changes,"
Maher said. "This is a 'press-release bill.' It won't move
The New England Cable Television Association, after helping
to quash the issue in New Hampshire, is shifting its troops to Vermont, where "forced
access" is supported by the Department of Public Services, and to Rhode Island.
The association will stress the investments made by Cox
Communications Inc., which serves the majority of Rhode Island homes, and Adelphia
Communications Corp., which is rebuilding plant passing the majority of Vermont
residences. Cox is launching Internet-protocol telephony, and Adelphia will roll out cable
Cable's lobby will also stress that regulation sends a
bad signal to the investment community, NECTA president Paul Cianelli said.
Following their experience in New Hampshire, lobbyists may
be well-served by putting a real-world, grassroots spin on their arguments.
NECTA executives noted that the legislative panel there
seemed moved by a subcontractor who noted that the reconstruction boom had enabled him to
expand his two-truck business to a fleet of 10 trucks.
He added he had five daughters at home, and if investment
were curbed, he wouldn't be able to pay for all of their weddings, according to
testimony related by NECTA executive vice president Bill Durand.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, Kansas and Idaho, GTE has introduced
boilerplate legislation requiring cable operators to grant open access to any requesting
entity on terms and conditions equal to those that they provide to themselves or their
The debate is expected to begin in the Ohio General
Assembly this week. Rep. George Terwilleger (R-Maineville) was circulating a
co-sponsor's memo asking that supporters of his open-access legislation sign up by
Tuesday (Feb. 15). This means Terwilleger must introduce his bill Wednesday -- the only
day Ohio lawmakers will be in session this month.
"We're definitely preparing for the battle,"
Ohio Cable Telecommunications Association director of government affairs Tracy Dine said.
"We think competition will provide open access. We've seen it with AT&T
[Corp.] and MindSpring [Enterprises Inc.], and AOL [America Online Inc.] and Time Warner
[Inc.]," referring to cable operators and ISPs that have reached business deals
In Kansas, the GTE bill has been assigned to the House
Utilities Committee, where hearings are expected, said Jay Allbaugh, director of
government affairs for Cox Communications Inc.'s Kansas region.
Although it's too early to say what support the bill
might attract, "It's safe to say [access proponents] are marshaling their
troops, and we're marshaling ours," Allbaugh said.
Supported by U S West, GTE's proposal in Idaho
includes one added wrinkle: a provision permitting an ISP to demand the same terms as a
service provider in another state if that ISP has an even better deal.
"It's a little aggressive," said Ron
Williams, executive director and chief lobbyist for the Idaho Cable Telecommunications
Association, of the GTE proposal.
The House State Affairs Committee will take up the bill
this week. Williams' primary goal during the hearing will be to offset GTE's
argument that cable is monopolizing the state's Internet market.
"There are 500 [high-speed] Internet customers in
Idaho as we speak," he said. "I don't think Idaho lawmakers are ready to
regulate an industry that has less than 1 percent of the market. But GTE is supported by U
S West, and you can't take the lobbying force of those two companies lightly."