Cambridge Wont Abandon Access Fight

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Regulators in Cambridge, Mass., refused to throw in the towel last week in their fight to introduce open access to the local high-speed Internet market.

Instead, the city will appeal a ruling by the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy, which declared that Cambridge, Somerville, North Andover and Quincy, Mass., had no authority to impose open-access requirements on AT & T Corp.

Quincy and North Andover each tried to condition the transfer of their MediaOne Group Inc. cable licenses on AT & T agreeing to unbundle its network, while both Cambridge and Somerville rejected the company's transfer request outright.

"The DTE decision has failed to allow the public interest to be addressed by the issuing authority," Cambridge city manager Robert W. Healy said. As the sole authority over the city's cable license, Healy added, he had the right to reject AT & T's transfer request if doing so was "in the public interest."

"I strongly believe that open access is important and in the best interest of Cambridge consumers," Healy said. "Having nondiscriminatory access to broadband cable is the only way our consumers can be assured of fair competition and more choices."

Predictably, MediaOne officials were "disappointed" by the city's position.

"The city of Cambridge is setting itself apart and becoming an isolated location," Media-One spokesman Rick Jenkinson said. "They're pursuing this at a time when state legislatures, communities and the courts are going in the other direction and allowing the marketplace to resolve the issue."

The DTE decision was issued by its cable division. An appeal, however, would go before the full commission. If, as expected, the commission refuses to reverse its staff, the next step will be the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

DeWayne Lehman, spokesman for Somerville Mayor Dorothy Kelly Gay, said that city has not decided whether to join Cambridge in its appeal. "We hope to make a decision in the next few days," he added. "Obviously, it's a good issue. The mayor feels very strongly about open access, and that it's a pro-consumer issue."

Sources predicted that Kelly Gay would appeal the DTE decision. She has already asked the Federal Communications Commission for a ruling on whether cities can demand that cable operators allow unaffiliated Internet-service providers onto their broadband networks. So far, the FCC has not responded.

The North Andover Board of Selection came out "strongly" in favor of joining Cambridge's appeal, but it was not immediately clear whether Quincy would do so.

Nevertheless, Cambridge officials were prepared to go it alone if necessary. "I can't speak for the other cities, but we're making a statement for the city of Cambridge," public information officer Ini Tomeu said.

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