US lobby groups demand open cable access

An interest group representing 1,800 U.S. county governments on Tuesday urged the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to support open cable access.

The National Association of Counties (NACO) passed a resolution during its meeting stating that "it is essential that local government franchise authorities have the authority to require that all cable companies provide open access to all Internet service providers."

Local governments are eagerly watching the open cable access issue given the ongoing legal wrangling between telecommunications giant AT&T and the city of Portland, Oregon. Portland last year successfully sued to require the company to open its cable network to competition from local ISPs. AT&T has appealed the decision.

The resolution passed by the county group "recognized the legitimate interest of county officials to protect the interest of consumers and to promote adoption of policies that promote the public's interests," said Honolulu city council member Rene Mansho, chairperson of NACO's subcommittee on transportation and telecommunications issues. Congress and federal regulators have so far allowed cable operators to keep competing ISPs off their high-speed access lines, but a few local governments have prohibited such exclusive practices.

Cable companies have argued open access requirements would be difficult to implement and deprive them of revenues needed to pay for upgrades to their lines that allow high-speed service.

Regulators in Broward County last week adopted a similar measure to the one passed by Portland officials, and Miami and San Francisco may follow.

Internet companies like America Online and MindSpring along with public advocacy and consumer groups plan to lobby the local governments for open access. They welcomed Tuesday's vote by the county association.

"County officials understand the concerns and needs of their citizens," said Rich Bond, co-director of the OpenNet Coalition that includes AOL and MindSpring.

The National Cable Television Association had no immediate comment. An AT&T spokeswoman said the policy backed by the counties would slow the deployment of high speed Internet service, which also allows cable companies to compete in the local telephone market.

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