Chicago -- The federal court decision in Portland, Ore.,
could spur more cities to consider forcing cable systems to open their networks to
competitors, state regulators on a National Show panel here suggested last Monday.
"It will at least cause municipalities to evaluate the
issue more carefully when it's raised," said Julia Johnson, a commissioner at
the Florida Public Service Commission. "At a minimum, it will cause them to take the
issue much more seriously than they did before. It becomes more real to them."
The court upheld Portland officials' contention that
they were within their rights to require AT&T Broadband & Internet Services to
open its cable networks to competitive Internet-service providers as a condition to grant
a franchise transfer from Tele-Communications Inc. AT&T Corp. closed its acquisition
of TCI earlier this year.
AT&T -- which is now attempting to close its purchase
of MediaOne Group Inc. -- has appealed the court ruling.
Despite heavy criticism from AT&T that Judge Owen
Panner's ruling was "inexplicable," Montana public-service commissioner Bob
Rowe said he's a "pretty good, well-regarded judge" whose ruling will spur
much discussion between state and local authorities. "We're rethinking how we
might work together," he added.
Eugene Sullivan, a commissioner at the Massachusetts
Department of Public Utilities, noted that cable franchising is administered at the state
level in Massachusetts, where AT&T Broadband has several systems.
"Everybody's taking a look at it," he said.
Sullivan said that if the AT&T-MediaOne transaction
were to go through, AT&T would control more than 50 percent of the cable systems in
the state. "But my instinct tells me that consolidation will be a good thing for
consumers," he added.
Johnson said cable appears to be ahead in bringing advanced
services to consumers in Florida. "Cable, indeed, stepped up to the plate," she
But she's concerned that advanced services don't
appear to be reaching rural and poor areas, noting that the National Association of
Regulatory Utility Commissioners plans to start a working group to study the issue.
"Right now, we don't have a solution,"