Minn. PUC Wont Pursue Open Access

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Minnesota regulators won't reconsider their earlier decision not to pursue an open-access policy that would force cable operators to unbundle their networks.

The state Public Utilities Commission recently rejected an appeal by the Minnesota Department of Commerce asking that the agency reconsider its decision to close an official docket that would have weighed the merits of open access.

The PUC's ruling was the latest setback for Gov. Jesse Ventura, whose administration unsuccessfully championed an open-access bill during the current legislative session.

Originally, Ventura proposed that cable operators that offer phone or Internet services be regulated in the same manner as the state's local-exchange carriers.

The result would have been a spate of interconnection requirements that would amount to open access for independent Internet-service providers seeking to offer their wares over cable's high-speed platform.

An attempt to amend open-access language to a bill allocating state funds to rural communities lacking access to the Internet also failed.

The first setback for access advocates came Feb. 29, when the PUC closed a docket on the access question, reasoning that broadband technology was in its "incipient stage," and "the cost of intervention would outweigh the benefits," commission spokesman Ganesh Krishnan said.

The PUC had earlier separated the access issue from its review of AT & T Corp.'s acquisition of MediaOne Group Inc. It subsequently gave the $60 billion deal the go-ahead.

Krishnan said the commission was not convinced by the arguments advanced by open-access proponents. "There was no reason to believe that there was a monopoly model in place," he added.

MediaOne-Minnesota's largest cable operator, with more than 330,000 subscribers in the Twin Cities area-was "pleased" by the commission's latest decision.

"It reaffirms the commission's earlier direction, which is that the marketplace is working, and that government does not need to step into the high-speed Internet business," MediaOne director of communications Brian Dietz said.

Meanwhile, DOC spokesman Tony Mendoza said the agency appealed the closing of the docket because it felt that no evidence had been offered to prove that cable operators would not come to dominate the state's high-speed-data market.

"There is definitely a hue and cry [concerning open access] among consumer groups and independent Internet-service providers," Mendoza said. "We think it's more pro-consumer, in the long run, to have open networks."

Mendoza added that the department was reviewing its options, including launching its own investigation into open access or trying another legislative push during the 2001 session.

"Cable and telecommunications reform is going to be a big issue in 2001," he said. "That might be a more efficient way to reach our goal."

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