FCC delays probe on Net open access

'Further analysis is appropriate prior to issuing,' Tristani sez

NEW YORK — FCC commissioner Gloria Tristani convinced the agency Thursday to postpone its general inquiry on open access until it completes a review of the AOL/Time Warner merger currently on its plate.

Open access, or the ability of multiple Internet service providers to use cable wires like Time Warner’s, is a big issue in that deal. The two companies have promised to provide access to other ISPs.

“With this adjudicatory matter pending involving open access, further analysis is appropriate prior to issuing” a notice of inquiry, Tristani wrote. “I think it is high time to proceed with consideration of a national framework on this issue, and I look forward to acting on this expeditiously,” she added.

The FCC is examining the question of open access after courts handed down contradictory opinions on whether open access is a cable, telephone or information service.

Conditions on merger

Insiders speculated that Tristani doesn’t want anything to compromise the FCC’s ability to put conditions on the AOL/Time Warner deal with regard to open access if it sees fit. There is concern that if the FCC launched the study, AOL/Time Warner would have an easy out, with attention focused on the study and not the merger.

Tristani wanted to delay Thursday’s scheduled vote for another month; FCC chairman William Kennard said he’d give her two weeks.

The AOL/TW merger is on track to close in mid-October. Along with the FCC, the FTC must approve the deal, with certain conditions likely.

“It is clear that the AOL/Time Warner merger brings together a unique concentration and market power that requires immediate regulatory relief,” Preston Padden, Disney veep for governmental relations, said.

AOL/Time Warner is also facing federal scrutiny in the instant messaging arena. AOL so far hasn’t let competitors’ instant messaging services interface with its giant network.

(Pamela McClintock in Washington contributed to this report.)

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