Telcos go to war: GTE sues AT&T

Upping the ante in the battle for open access, GTE accuses AT&T of antitrust violations.

Upping the ante in the battle for open access, GTE Corp. is going to court to stop AT&T Corp. and Comcast from forcing subscribers to their cable modem service to also sign up with the @Home ISP.

In its antitrust complaint, filed Monday in federal court in Pittsburgh, Pa., GTE claims that AT&T (NYSE:T) and Comcast are violating antitrust law by illegally tying the @Home Internet access service, which is partially owned by AT&T, to their broadband offerings

The suit also claims the companies are striking exclusive deals that leave out other broadband providers such as GTE Corp. (NYSE:GTE).

GTE General Counsel William P. Barr said the deals in effect require customers to pay twice if they want to sign up with an alternative Internet provider -- once to @Home and again to the ISP of their choice.

"You shouldn't let the person who owns the driveway dictate where people go," Barr said.

AT&T called the suits an "illegitimate effort" in GTE's efforts to protect its monopoly in the local telephone market. "Now that AT&T is trying to use cable facilities to bring choice to …. customers, GTE is using every trick in the book to delay that competition," the company said in a statement.

As a major telecom player, GTE is one of several companies with a vested interest in the battle for control of the pipes that lead to your house. GTE's ISP has 500,000 customers, and the company, along with others such as America Online Inc., have appealed to Congress to make sure that cable companies don't cut off access to their Internet services. GTE also offers DSL service, which competes with cable modems to bring broadband to the home.

Barr said the issue is much broader than just an AT&T vs. GTE debate. He said open access should be the rule in both telecommunications and Internet policy. When asked if he would be interested in coming to an access agreement with AT&T, Barr replied: "Is GTE interested in cutting a deal just for GTE? The answer is no."

The issue also is playing out in several local jurisdictions, including San Francisco, Calif., and Cambridge, Mass., which are considering whether to require cable companies to open up access to their residents. Portland, Ore., has taken the strongest position so far, ruling that the AT&T must open up its lines to outside ISPs. AT&T sued to overturn the decision, but lost. It's now appealing, and the first hearing in that part of the case is scheduled for next week.


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