Microsoft Coalition: No Cable Barriers

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A group of computer and media companies -- some of them the Internet's biggest winners -- has formed a coalition with consumer groups in favor of regulations that would block cable and phone companies from stifling consumer access to lawful Internet content.

The coalition -- which includes Microsoft Corp., The Walt Disney Co., eBay Inc., Inc., Apple Computer, Inc. and public-interest law firm Media Access Project -- declared their concerns in a Nov. 18 letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell.

In the two-page letter, the group called on the FCC to ensure that network owners could not undermine consumer access to unaffiliated content, calling such unfettered access the engine that has driven the growth of the Internet to date.

The group said it was "extremely concerned" that "network operators" would use their power to harm competitors. The letter did not mention cable or phone companies by name.

"The [FCC] should assure that consumers and other Internet users continue to enjoy the unfettered ability to reach lawful content and services, and to communicate and interact with each other and reach desired Internet destinations without impediments imposed by transmission-network providers," the letter said.

The FCC is considering whether to require cable operators to grant access to unaffiliated Internet-service providers. In attempting to dissuade the commission from adopting such a regulation, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association has argued that cable operators do not restrict consumer access to Internet content.

Microsoft's participation is curious given the company's large investment in cable operator Comcast Corp. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' investment arm, Cascade Investments, has also acquired a large stake in MSO Cox Communications Inc.

"The Microsoft-led coalition is a group in search of a problem: 10 million cable-modem users today enjoy access to any content of their choice on the Internet," NCTA senior vice president of law and regulatory policy Dan Brenner said in a prepared statement.

"Those who advocate regulation of broadband Internet services have failed to provide any evidence of consumer problems accessing Internet sites," he added.