The Open-Access Saga A Blow-By-Blow Account


Nov. 17, 1998: The Mount Hood Cable Regulatory Commission-which advises six Oregon communities, including Portland-notifies AT & T Corp. and Tele-Communications Inc. that it intends to mandate open access in franchise transfers. AT & T should set aside 15 percent of capacity for competitors willing to pay for carriage, the local franchising authority said.

Dec. 1, 1998: The MHCRC believes it has brokered an agreement on the franchise transfer. AT & T Broadband & Internet Services will grant access to networks under federal leased-access rules.

Dec. 14, 1998: AT & T says there is no leased-access agreement. The MHCRC's transfer recommendation, including an open-access provision, is forwarded to the Portland City Council and the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, both of which approve the conditional transfer. Meanwhile, Los Angeles enters the fray, holding its first public hearing on the issue.

Dec. 28, 1998: Hours before AT & T and MediaOne Group Inc. were to sign off on a transfer agreement, they notify Portland that they will abide by all transfer conditions except open access, executives said. The LFA said it would consider denying the transfer. Meanwhile, Denver seeks a legal opinion on its unbundling authority; and Seattle and its surrounding King County and Bellevue, Wash., each determine to at least discuss the issue.

Jan. 11, 1999: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), an architect of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, attempts to broker an agreement between AT & T/TCI and the Oregon regulators. Dallas and Arlington, Texas, drop the issue to focus on other operational problems. Spokane City and County, Wash., add amendments to their transfer calling for "competition and consumer choice," short of a mandate.

Jan. 18, 1999: Negotiations fail and AT & T files suit in U.S. District Court challenging the right of the franchising authority in Portland to even address the issue of data access. In Los Angeles, the transfer of TCI to AT & T is approved with a "most-favored-nations clause," but no actual access mandate. Los Angeles officials commission a study, signaling that the issue may continue to arise, as 14 franchises within the city limits are set to change hands before 2002.

Jan. 25, 1999: Despite pressure from America Online Inc., the Federal Communications Commission votes unanimously to send a report to Congress indicating that the agency will not intervene in the open-access issue.

Feb. 8, 1999: A committee of the King County Council recommends that the AT & T-TCI transfer be denied if the operator refuses to open the data platform. Seattle drops the issue in return for a drop in monthly cable bills.

Feb. 15, 1999: AT & T shareholders approve the TCI acquisition. King County reverses its opposition and approves the transfer, but it commissions a $200,000 study of the access issue.

Feb. 22, 1999: Oregon regulators seek dismissal of AT & T's lawsuit, arguing that attempts to regulate the data platform have not damaged the telephone company.

March 1, 1999: AT & T chairman C. Michael Armstrong dismisses reports that his company is contemplating a purchase of AOL-an acquisition that would serve to silence the Internet-service provider''s lobbying in Washington, D.C.

April 5, 1999: Open-access supporters move to a new forum: state government. Bills to force access are pursued in Texas, New Mexico and Missouri.

May 24, 1999: Broward County, Fla., joins LFAs examining open access. In Spokane, the city manager rejects a proposal by Internet Ventures Inc. that AT & T Broadband's franchise be lifted because the incumbent refuses to sell access to an affiliate of the Internet provider.

May 31, 1999: A U.S. District Court upholds the right of Portland to regulate high-speed-data access. IVI attempts to curry support for its leased-access appeals by filing a petition with the FCC asking it to force operators to sell space to the competitor.

June 7, 1999: AT & T says it will appeal the court decision. The court did not opine on whether Internet regulation was good public policy: The decision focused narrowly on municipal authority.

June 14, 1999: At cable's National Show, FCC chairman William Kennard says he believes in a national policy on the Internet, adding that action by 30,000 LFAs would create chaos. Regulators must remain on the sidelines and "do no harm" to a market that is wide open today, he says.

June 21, 1999: A long-awaited report on access debuts in Los Angeles. Staff members conclude that regulation is not necessary at this time. Three members of the Board of Information Technology Commissioners say the report is influenced by Mayor Richard Riordan and resign, rather than approving the report. Up the Pacific Coast, San Francisco's supervisors decide to look at the issue.

June 28, 1999: The Spokane City-County Cable Advisory Board votes against extending leased-access rules to include ISPs.

July 5, 1999: The U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco agrees to review the U.S. District Court decision in the Portland case. San Francisco City and County hold up the local TCI transfer when a supervisor raises the open-access issue.

July 12, 1999: The Broward County Board of Supervisors votes 4-3 to require open access.

July 19, 1999: Comcast Corp. files suit in federal court against Broward County's ordinance.

July 26, 1999: A coalition of ISPs launches a ballot initiative in Denver to open AT & T Broadband's high-speed platform. San Francisco approves TCI's transfer without an open-access provision. Consumer and other advocacy groups petition the FCC to reverse the hands-off policy.

Aug. 2, 1999: A petition drive launches in Massachusetts that will allow the state's

residents to decide if the high-speed-data platform should be opened.

Aug. 16, 1999: The Denver coalition is notified that it missed the statutory deadline for an initiative. City officials approve the transfer of the local cable franchise without an access mandate.

Aug. 23, 1999: The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission takes up the issue, at the urging of U S West. The Massachusetts attorney general certifies a ballot initiative on open access. Supporters await verification signatures collected until Dec. 1, which would assure a place on the ballot next November.

Sept. 13, 1999: Fairfax County, Va., decides that state law bars it from regulating access and allows the transfer of Media General Inc. to Cox Communications Inc.

Sept. 28, 1999: The City of Fairfax, Va., approves an open-access requirement on Cox.

Oct. 4, 1999: Officials in Buffalo, N.Y., begin to debate the issue.

Oct. 17, 1999: Cambridge and Somerville, Mass., authorities break ranks with state regulators-which opined that cities could only consider financial and managerial qualifications-and pursue open-access requirements. Miami-Dade County, Fla., officials decide against an open-access policy.

Oct. 25, 1999: GTE Corp. files suit in federal court in Pittsburgh against AT & T, Comcast, Excite@Home Corp. and others, claiming that bundled high-speed technology and content violates antitrust laws. St. Louis approves open access, as does Weymouth, Mass.

Nov. 1, 1999: During oral arguments before the appeals court hearing the Portland case, judges indicate that they may rule on whether high-speed data should be classified as a cable or telecommunications service.

Nov. 8, 1999: Consumers file suit in Los Angeles, alleging that the buy-through policies of high-speed-access providers and cable operators cost subscribers extra money if they want to access competitive providers. Cambridge rejects AT & T's request to transfer MediaOne's franchise. North Andover, Mass., adds a reopener to its transfer that allows it to raise the access issue later with AT & T.

Nov. 15, 1999: AT & T and MediaOne file an appeal with the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy, challenging efforts by Quincy and North Andover to regulate access.

Dec. 6, 1999: AT & T and ISP MindSpring Enterprises Inc. jointly announce a change of strategy by the MSO. AT & T will open its high-speed-data platform to competitors when exclusivity agreements with carriers expire in 2002, if not sooner.

Dec. 13, 1999: Culver City, Calif., and Henrico County, Va., become the 10th and 11th local-franchising authorities to require open access.

Dec. 27, 1999: Pittsburgh orders AT & T Broadband to offer nondiscriminatory open access "under certain conditions."

Jan. 10, 2000: Open access loses its most deep-pocketed supporter when AOL announces a deal to buy Time Warner Inc.

Jan. 17, 2000: A San Francisco city staff report to the board of supervisors supports open access for the city and county. The board eventually supports the concept but sets a date for compliance in 2003.

Jan. 24, 2000: A GTE-supported bill on open access fizzles as the Indiana legislature adjourns without addressing it.

Jan. 28, 2000: Regulators in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, mull an open-access requirement.

Feb. 7, 2000: A total of 10 states-Delaware, Vermont, Maryland, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania-have access bills pending. Massachusetts has a ballot initiative pending for November. Utah, New Hampshire, Virginia and Maryland reject access bills.

Feb. 14, 2000: A U.S. District Court judge in Miami drops Comcast and Advanced Communications from a suit challenging the open-access ordinance in Broward County. The judge notes that operators haven't yet rolled out the broadband services they seek to protect. Pennsylvania and Idaho reject access bills. The merged AOL-Time Warner says it will offer open access on its cable systems.

Feb. 21, 2000: Minnesota regulators drop plans for an access study.

Feb. 28, 2000: Operators drop plans for a ballot initiative challenging a Board of Aldermen's access directive in St. Louis, opting to negotiate instead. AOL details some of its access plan in Washington, D.C., including no limits on video streaming.

March 13, 2000: Cable associations and friends create their own "grassroots" lobbying group against access, Net Compete Now.

April 3, 2000: Access resurfaces in San Francisco, backed by Tom Ammiano, president of the board of supervisors for the city and county.

April 17, 2000: Two King County board members propose that AT & T Broadband be allowed to immediately offer high-speed data with a buy-through provision for competitors. Rivals label the proposal "a complete cave-in."

May 1, 2000: The Massachusetts Department of Tele-communications and Energy ruled in cable's favor and against four towns seeking open access.

May 2, 2000: The ruling by the U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the Portland case is still pending.