A Washington state cable-advisory group wants the city of
Seattle to hop on the Internet-service providers' equal-access bandwagon.
The Citizens Telecommunications and Technology Advisory
Board -- a volunteer group that counsels local officials on cable-related issues -- has
recommended that Seattle require that the high-speed @Home Network be opened to area ISPs
in exchange for transferring Tele-Communications Inc.'s franchise to AT&T Corp.
Moreover, it wants equal access even if the transfer is not
authorized by the City Council at its Feb. 16 meeting.
"Whether the transfer goes forward or not, this needs
to be in the franchise," board chairman Anthony Williams said.
However, the recommendation comes at a time when interest
in equal access appears to be waning elsewhere.
As expected, Los Angeles last week authorized a transfer of
its TCI franchise without an unbundling provision, while Denver officials voted to send a
similar ordinance to the City Council for approval this week.
So far, Portland and Multnomah County, Ore., along with
King County, Wash., have been the only jurisdictions to announce that they will require
open access as a term for transferring their franchises.
In a Jan. 15 letter, the Seattle advisory board proposed
that the City Council require "nondiscriminatory access to the franchisees'
cable-modem platform for providers of Internet and online services, whether or not the
providers are affiliated with AT&T or TCI."
It also recommended that AT&T and TCI should be barred
from restricting what services ISPs could deliver over the network.
Williams -- who said the board's recommendations are
usually "listened to" by the City Council -- said mandating equal access prior
to authorizing a transfer will guarantee consumers "affordable" Internet
services in the future.
"If you don't do it upfront, it's going to
be hell going back and doing it. After the door is closed, try sticking your foot in it.
There's going to be a lot of force involved in keeping that door closed," he
Scott Morris, AT&T's vice president of external
affairs, said the company agrees that competing technologies should be on the network, but
it feels that access should be negotiated privately.
"Rather than some regulatory incursion, the
marketplace should decide these choices and opportunities," Morris said.
"There's a lot of educating going on [in Seattle]. Hopefully, people won't
be so quick to think that an equal-access provision is the way to go."
But if the city approves the board's recommendation,
AT&T "may not have any other option" except to go to court, as it did in
Portland and Multnomah County, Morris said.
Even so, Seattle officials -- who are already angry with
TCI over the MSO's failure to complete a promised upgrade of its local network -- may
not be in the mood to compromise.
Meanwhile, the telecommunications advisory board's
proposal also included suggestions for dealing with the upgrade situation, including a
recommendation that Seattle commission a study on a possible overbuild or public/private
It also recommended pressing TCI for a laundry list of
concessions, including: granting the 65,000 affected subscribers $10-per-month credits
until the upgrade is completed; performance standards for the rebuild and for customer
service; free or subsidized Internet access for nonprofit and public facilities; technical
training for low-income residents; and encouraging TCI to subcontract work to area small
TCI spokesman Steve Kipp said the MSO continues to try to
negotiate a settlement.
"The one thing that both sides agree on is that
something has to be done for customers that have not been upgraded," Kipp said.
From its standpoint, AT&T wants the upgrade issue
settled separately from the open-access question, Morris said.
"Then we can decide the access issue on its own merit,
or lack of merit," he added.
In Denver, meanwhile, the Public Works and Amenities
Committee voted last week to forward an ordinance to the City Council authorizing a
transfer of TCI's franchise, but absent an equal-access provision being sought by a
local coalition headed by U S West.
In doing so, it overlooked a survey unveiled by the
coalition that found that 69 percent of respondents wanted their own ISP rather than being
locked into @Home, and 79 percent thought that Denver had the right to require equal
AT&T countered with its own survey, which showed that
only 5 percent of those polled supported ISP access.
Councilwoman Debbie Ortega was set to reintroduce an
amendment requiring ISP access at the City Council's vote on the transfer today (Feb.
In a related development, five Denver-area cities voted to
transfer their TCI franchises last week, meaning that 17 out of 19 local TCI communities
that must sign off on the AT&T deal have done so, covering a majority of the
MSO's 450,000 area subscribers.
Elsewhere, Internet Ventures Inc. -- a California-based ISP
acting under existing federal regulations -- filed leased-access carriage requests last
week with Century Communications Corp. in Ventura, Calif., and with MediaOne Group Inc. in
Stockton, Calif. The company filed an earlier request with TCI for the Spokane, Wash.,