FCC preps open access study

Issue plays critical role in AOL/Time Warner merger

WASHINGTON — An FCC commissioner said a study launched Thursday into the issue of open access does not circumvent the FCC’s power to impose possible conditions on the AOL/Time Warner merger.

Commissioner Gloria Tristani made her statement soon after FCC officials held an afternoon press conference to announce the much-anticipated study of open access. The general inquiry will study the legal and policy approaches the FCC should take, if any, surrounding high-speed Internet service, and particularly those services provided over cable systems.

Open access has played a critical role in the proposed AOL/Time Warner merger, with opponents arguing that the combined force of the two companies will result in a virtual stranglehold on content delivered over valuable high-speed lines.

Staff at the FCC and FTC, which also must approve the mega-merger, are reportedly considering imposing conditions regarding open access.

Two weeks ago, Tristani persuaded her colleagues at the FCC to postpone commencement of the open access study out of concern that it would be seen as tacit approval of the pending AOL/Time Warner merger, which is expected to close next month.

In arguing their case to the FCC, AOL/Time Warner execs have said the issue of open access is best left to a general study, and that any condition regarding open access would be difficult to impose on the merger when there is no defined, national policy.

FCC officials agreed with Tristani that Thursday’s open access launch doesn’t prohibit the regulatory agency from imposing any separate conditions on AOL/Time Warner.

In a related merger development, the FTC is expected to meet today with congressional staff regarding a request by Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Commerce, to view any proposed orders regarding the AOL/Time Warner merger. Bliley this week sent a letter to FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky expressing his concern over the possibility of open access being applied as a condition to the union.

Bliley said any such condition could set a de facto standard.

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