Portland RFQ Draws Telecom Powerhouses


Officials in Portland, Ore. -- ground zero in the
open-access wars -- said last week that they received nine responses to a "request
for qualifications" for a telecommunications-services provider willing to offer
Internet access over an open platform.

Respondents included such big-name telecommunications
concerns as U S West, GTE Corp. and Qwest Communications International Inc.

Portland issued the RFQ -- the start of a
solicitation-for-bids process -- to facilities-based providers in order to ensure that
cable-data providers don't indefinitely redline its residents. AT&T Corp. has
about 31,000 former Tele-Communications Inc. subscribers in the Portland area. The City
Council is scheduled to hear about the results Nov. 8.

AT&T has so far refused to introduce high-speed-data
service AT&T@Home in Portland pending the outcome of its appeal to the Ninth Circuit
of a lower-court decision upholding Oregon's Portland and Multnomah counties'
right to require open access.

AT&T sued the counties in U.S. District Court in Oregon
in January, after regulators tried to make open access for unaffiliated Internet-service
providers a condition for transferring the TCI franchises.

Since then, the debate over open access -- or "forced
access," as some in the cable industry term it -- has spread to numerous communities,
including the Miami and Boston areas.

Road Runner -- the data-over-cable service owned partly by
MediaOne Group Inc. and Time Warner Cable -- has held back deployment in Somerville,
Mass., over open-access concerns.

One of the more intriguing replies to the RFQ came from The
Logres Project, a Solana Beach, Calif.-based outfit that proposed a fiber-to-the-home
network that would make leased bandwidth available to interested ISPs, as well as to
voice, video and data providers.

"It's obviously very gratifying to have nine
responses," Portland franchising director David Olson said. "There were people
who said we wouldn't get any."

Meanwhile, sources reported, AT&T has been looking for
ways to defuse the open-access issue, which has sprung up in several communities across
the country. The company has been signaling a willingness to offer open access to ISPs
once its exclusive content deal with Excite@Home Corp. expires in 2002.

Such a move would be welcomed in Portland.

"It's not surprising," Olson said.
"AT&T sees the handwriting on the wall. We expect to have a favorable decision
from the Ninth circuit by February. And if you think you see dominoes falling in place
now, wait until that happens."

Portland Councilman Erik Sten said last week that the
departure of AT&T Broadband & Internet Services CEO Leo J. Hindery Jr. may help to
create a clean slate and defuse the situation.

"I hope that the new person coming in will rethink the
company's broadband strategy, because it's not working," Sten said. "I
don't know if this will change anything, but if this opens a door to resolving this
open-access situation, we'd like to step through and talk."