L.A. Shelves Access Issue Once Again


A proposal to make open-access a condition of cable-franchise renewal in Los Angeles has again been sent to the committee woodshed.

The City Council held off on its scheduled Nov. 7 vote in lieu of further work on the proposal by the Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

Los Angeles has been trying to resolve this issue since 1998, when the citizen board now called the Board of Information Technology Commissioners was one of the first few regulatory bodies to raise the issue, after trailblazer Portland, Ore.

Three members of that panel resigned after open- access hearings were held but prior to the issuance of its report. Members claimed Mayor Richard Riordan, an access opponent, was pressuring them to endorse a report opting against compelling cable operators to open their high-speed data networks to unaffiliated Internet service providers.

An Information Technology Agency staff report said the issue wasn't ripe yet and advised against taking any action. That document went to the council's Information Technology and General Services Committee without a recommendation from the civilian board.

The council committee chair, Mark Ridley-Thomas, scheduled more hearings on access. But the mayor stripped him of his chairmanship in a postelection shake-up last November. Riordan named an ally, Alex Padilla, to chair the committee.

But Padilla also scheduled hearings. Earlier this year, a deeply divided committee voted 2-1 in favor of a resolution directing the Information Technology Agency to include open access as a renewal condition on all franchises.

Los Angeles has 15 franchise areas and contracts in all of them expire between August and November of 2002. The city opened the formal refranchising process last December and has held monthly hearings on the performance of its operators, including AT&T Broadband, Adelphia Communications, Time Warner Cable and such smaller operators as Buenavision Cable.

At present, the resolution before the council panel recommends that Los Angeles cable operators be compelled to open their high-speed data platforms to all unaffiliated Internet service providers under terms and conditions no less favorable than those applied to affiliated or in-house ISP services.

It differs from the current open-access proposal reportedly under consideration by federal authorities mulling the America Online Inc.-Time Warner merger, which may cap access at three outside providers.

Los Angeles officials also want to extend city consumer service standards to cable-modem users and negotiate for universal cable-modem deployment.

Upon passage, council members would direct the ITA and the city attorney's office to develop an enforcement and monitoring plan that would generate quarterly compliance reports.

Council members agreed to send the proposal to the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, where members will obtain guidance from the Federal Communications Commission to coordinate regulation.