Illinois to Reconsider Open Access


Open access is back on the legislative agenda in Illinois. On Feb. 24, Rep. Steve Davis (D-East Alton) introduced a bill euphemistically called the Internet Access Enhancement Act.

Its stated purpose: to open cable's high-speed Internet platform to unaffiliated competitors. But the Illinois cable lobby claims the real force behind the bill is telco SBC Communications Inc.

"They've dusted off every old, worthless bill and reintroduced it," said Joan Etten, president of the Cable Television & Communications Association of Illinois. SBC's goal is to deplete the cable industry's lobbying resources, she charged.

The measures could be of special concern to Comcast Corp., which serves 40 percent of the state's cable customers.

SBC: Not our idea

An SBC spokesman denies his company is behind the open-access bills.

None "of those are ours," SBC director of communications Andrea Brands said of the cable-specific legislation.

SBC claims ties only to a broadband parity proposal. Parity bills, which have been introduced in multiple states, would bar state public-utility regulators from overseeing telcos' digital subscriber line data platforms.

Telco-delivered DSL-line service is the only product that is regulated, Brands said, and SBC wants all high-speed providers treated equally.

Attempts to open cable's data platform to unaffiliated Internet providers died two years ago, when three federal courts cited different reasons to conclude that high-speed data regulation is beyond the authority of city or state officials.

The new Illinois bill reads like the prelitigation attempts at open access. Not allowing any high-speed data provider with an affiliated Internet-service provider to establish a monopoly is in the public interest, according to the measure.

The best way to prevent that is "fair, equitable and non-discriminatory" access by other businesses, according to the measure.

The access bill introduced last week would allow both the state attorney general and members of the public to sue an offending company. It sets civil penalties at $2,500 per offense per day.

The bill has been referred to an Assembly committee.

Other cable bills

Other cable-related bills introduced this session include a measure covering late-fee regulations, a bill establishing state customer-service standards and legislation mandating 30 days notice for changes to rates or programming.

The late-fee bill would set charges on past-due accounts at $1.50 and would cap disconnection fees at $10. The customer-service bill would require operators to file detailed customer-service plans and establish a wide array of penalties for violations.