Gov't agency vows to improve Web speed

WASHINGTON — It’s time to end the “World Wide Wait,” said FCC Chairman William Kennard, who pledged his agency’s support Thursday for a 1000% increase in Internet access speed for the average home computer user.

Kennard said turbo-charging the Internet is one of his highest priorities for 1999. “Americans want the Internet to go faster,” said Kennard during his first briefing with reporters at the FCC’s posh new headquarters on the banks of the Potomac River.

Americans spend an average 25 hours a year waiting for information to download, according to Kennard.

The agency will emphasize improving speeds for the more than 22 million residential Web surfers, who generally have slower access than office Internet users.

Perhaps the biggest problem for the delivery of movies and music over the Internet is its sluggish speed. But it’s a double-edged sword; any increase in Internet speed will also raise the incentives for copyright pirates to use the Web to sell bootleg material.

Review of AT&T

Kennard refused to comment directly on how his avowed goal of boosting Internet access speed would affect his agency’s pending review of AT&T’s planned acquisition of Tele-Communications Inc. A central part of that deal is AT&T’s plan to require its high-speed Internet customers to sign up for TCI’s @Home Web service.

But he did say that the agency should resist the “seductive” suggestion that it had to “perpetuate a monopoly in order to create higher bandwidth.” The agency chief also said the FCC should ensure that high-speed access “operates according to law which is pro-competitive.”

Kennard said the agency would put a proposal on the table later this month that would give greater regulatory leeway to telephone companies that create separate subsidiaries for high-speed Internet ventures.

Still grappling with LMAs

Kennard also said the agency may hold a hearing on broadcast ownership rules later this month. The FCC is still struggling to resolve a controversial proposal to trim back Local Marketing Agreements.

More than 80 stations around the country use LMAs to sell advertising and buy programming for another station in a market where it already owns one. Critics of LMAs say they allow broadcasters to circumvent the FCC’s ban on owning more than one station in a market.

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