L.A. Council May Opt for Access


Los Angeles-A City Council subcommittee here approved a proposal to make open access a condition of renewal for the city's 13 franchises, covering a total of 637,000 subscribers.

Council members noted that the courts have yet to finalize jurisdiction on the issue, but opted to act anyway.

The committee approved the open-access advice by a 2-1 vote. The full City Council could take up the issue as soon as this week.

"The issue is different here-we're in the process of renewal, not transfer," councilman Alex Padilla, chairman of the Information Technology and General Services Committee, said last Wednesday. Judicial challenges may well be resolved by the time the renewal negotiations are concluded in 2002, he noted.

Padilla's recommendation directs negotiators in the city's Information Technology Agency to seek a renewal requirement of nondiscriminatory access to the cable-modem platform on terms equal to those offered to an operator's own affiliates.

Renewals should also include a universal-access clause and updated customer-service standards for all products offered by an operator. The resolution also calls for technological updates for the city's schools and libraries.

Padilla relied on a report released last week by the city's chief legislative analyst, Ron Deaton. He considered open access to be within the purview of the city and technically feasible. As proof, officials noted that AT & T Corp. announced last week that it will conduct an open-access trial in November with multiple Internet-service-provider participants to 500 households in Boulder, Colo.

If approved by the full City Council, the resolution would affect renegotiations by Adelphia Communications Corp., AOL Time Warner Inc. and AT & T Broadband.

Operators argued that they've already "done the right things," by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in broadband deployment, which proves that a public policy is not necessary.

The resolution is faulty because it does not specify how open access will be administered, they added. Further, it interferes with operators and the ITA, which have a 15-year relationship, and establishes conditions away from the negotiating table.

Representatives of AT & T Broadband also criticized what they perceived as a lack of consensus on behalf of city departments. An ITA report, which is now almost one year old, recommended a "wait-and-see" policy. The city attorney's office has expressed legal concerns in the past, but that occurred during transfer processes.

But the harshest criticism came from state Assemblyman Rod Wright (D-L.A.) in a letter read into the record. Wright lashed out at the analysts' report, stating that he was "appalled at the lack of technical and legal expertise" expressed. "You can be sure of legal action," he added.

Consumer groups and Pacific Bell backed the initiative. PacBell's representative described open access as a level-playing-field issue. Digital-subscriber lines are open to competitors, yet the utility spent $150 million to upgrade its plant in Los Angeles alone because "it's just good business sense," the representative said.

The Los Angeles Times editorialized in favor of the policy last week. It noted that the fear of cable monopolies that offer paltry service at exorbitant prices was heightened by the recent blackout of ABC Inc. affiliates during a clash between Time Warner Cable and The Walt Disney Co.

Meanwhile, AT & T executives said the Boulder trial would be conducted for six months over its hybrid fiber-coaxial network. Dubbed "AT & T Broadband Choice," the trial will attempt to settle the technical and operational issues involved with allowing consumers to access the ISP of their preference.

"We were the first company in our industry to commit to choice, we were first to agree to a set of principles with an unaffiliated ISP to provide connectivity, and now, we're first to commit to a technical trial," AT & T Broadband president and CEO Dan Somers said.

AT & T invited 10 ISPs invited to join in the trial: America Online Inc., Dell.net, Denver News (Denver Post-Tribune), Excite@Home Corp., Juno Online Services Inc., MindSpring Enterprises Inc., Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, RMI.NET, WorldNet Communications Inc. and Yahoo! Inc.