St. Louis Access Debate Stalls


AT&T Broadband & Internet Services has apparently
stalled the open-access debate in metro St. Louis at least until November, when voters
will be asked to decide the contentious issue.

The MSO submitted a petition with more than 24,000
signatures to the Board of Elections asking the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to revisit a
recently enacted ordinance requiring it to unbundle its planned high-speed network.

Under the city's charter, the aldermen have 30 days to
reconsider enacting the ordinance. If the board affirms its earlier decision or does
nothing, the matter goes before the voters this fall, assuming that AT&T comes up with
signatures representing another 5 percent of the registered voters in the last mayoral

St. Louis is barred from enforcing its ordinance until
after the election, allowing the operator to continue its local campaign against the

"They've brought people in from out of town to
get their signatures, so it wasn't the grassroots efforts they claimed," said
Board of Aldermen president Francis Slay, who authored the access ordinance. "And
they were telling people that if they signed the petition, it would lower their telephone

But Slay said he was not aware of any sentiment on the
board to scrap the open-access ordinance, despite what he characterized as a campaign of
"misinformation" by AT&T Broadband.

The MSO vehemently opposed the Slay measure from the
beginning, arguing that it would scuttle a planned upgrade of the 55,000-subscriber system
in St. Louis, deny consumers high-speed Internet access and make it impossible to
negotiate a franchise renewal.

Its bid to overturn the local access ordinance is backed by
Charter Communications Inc., the locally based MSO that agreed to swap its Texas systems
for AT&T's 270,000 subscribers in the metro St. Louis area.

"Charter made the decision to take over this market
knowing that we had an open-access ordinance. Now they want to undo it," Slay said.

Meanwhile, AT&T Broadband dodged a bullet in St. Louis
County when local officials held a first reading on a four-month franchise extension that
excluded an open-access provision. The county was scheduled to hold a second and final
reading this week on the ordinance extending the franchise.

AT&T Broadband spokeswoman Deb Seidel said the
extension gives both sides time to reach a compromise. "We're continuing the
education process," she said. "I'm sure we'll be able to come up with
satisfactory [franchise] language."

In the suburb of St. Charles, Mo., where AT&T Broadband
serves some 12,000 subscribers, councilwoman Rose Kasper shelved plans to introduce an
open-access ordinance so the city would have time to negotiate a franchise renewal.

"That doesn't mean the two can't come
together at some future date," a city official said.