Open Access Isnt Dead Issue in L.A.

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Los Angeles -- Although city officials here approved the
transfer of local franchises from Tele-Communications Inc. to AT&T Corp. with a
request, rather than a demand, that high-speed-data platforms be opened to competitors,
the issue is not dead.

The city is researching the need for a regional Internet,
the effects of regulation on investment and the technical ability to open the data
platform.

The city's Department of Information Technology has
collected information from local operators and competitors, Cable Television Laboratories
Inc., the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Justice and other federal
agencies on the possibility of open platforms and the city's legal standing.

In January, the city's IT commissioners tried to add
open-access language into the AT&T franchise transfer, but they were dissuaded from
that effort.

A city attorney's report warned of significant
liability from the action, and cable operators testified that it was technically
detrimental to the platform to open it to competitors. For instance, if the customers of
competitors did long streaming-video downloads, they said, traffic in the pipe could slow.

But competitors argued that policy on high-speed products
should be in effect as the platform is built, and not as it is retrofitted.

Since then, officials here have visited with the OpenNet
Internet-service-provider coalition, which is backed by America Online Inc., and they have
gone to cable-modem service @Home Network's base to familiarize themselves with the
technology.

The city's stand on the issue is important because the
IT commissioners indicated that if they can, they want to raise the access issues with
local systems.

They will have that opening within the next year: Due to
mergers and acquisitions including Adelphia Communications Corp.'s takeover of
Century Communications Corp. and Comcast Corp.'s purchase of MediaOne Group Inc., Los
Angeles will handle 12 system transfers and 14 renewals in the next two years. (The city
has 14 franchises.)

"We're trying to remain as objective as
possible," IT department assistant general manager Jesse Juarros said during a recent
meeting with local regulators -- that is, as objective as they can about a term, open
access, that has become so politicized that staffers try not to use it anymore, he noted.

The city plans to hold a roundtable for both sides in the
open-access debate. But the discussions will not linger: The department has promised a
report to the Los Angeles City Council by the end of June.

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