Portland RFQ Draws Telecom Powerhouses


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

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

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

AT&T has so far refused to introduce high-speed-dataservice AT&T@Home in Portland pending the outcome of its appeal to the Ninth Circuitof 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 Oregonin January, after regulators tried to make open access for unaffiliated Internet-serviceproviders a condition for transferring the TCI franchises.

Since then, the debate over open access -- or "forcedaccess," 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 byMediaOne 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 TheLogres Project, a Solana Beach, Calif.-based outfit that proposed a fiber-to-the-homenetwork that would make leased bandwidth available to interested ISPs, as well as tovoice, video and data providers.

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

Meanwhile, sources reported, AT&T has been looking forways to defuse the open-access issue, which has sprung up in several communities acrossthe country. The company has been signaling a willingness to offer open access to ISPsonce 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 decisionfrom the Ninth circuit by February. And if you think you see dominoes falling in placenow, wait until that happens."

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

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