Opening broadband

High-speed competish a must, Kennard warns

FROM WESTERN CABLE

One way or another, cablers will have to open their high-speed Internet networks to competitors, FCC chairman Bill Kennard said Thursday. The only question is whether they do it voluntarily or through government regulation.

Kennard said there is a broad agreement that there will be an “open platform over cable.” The only question is “how you get there.” Kennard was speaking to cablers gathered in Los Angeles for the annual Western Cable Show.

Online service providers and cable companies are fighting, on several fronts, the terms and conditions of Internet access over high-speed cable networks. The battle is taking place in the FCC, Congress, the courts and local municipalities, including Los Angeles.

So far, the FCC has taken a hands-off approach to the Internet. For the time being, Kennard said, “I place my faith in the marketplace.” But he also warned that could change, “if you ignore the access problem or worse, stonewall it.”

Kennard has made it clear that speeding up the Internet is one of the highest priorities of his FCC tenure. And to that end, he is willing to hold off on regulating companies, if it leads to quicker deployment of a turbo-charged Internet.

At issue is whether AT&T should be allowed to force its customers to subscribe to @Home as a condition for signing up for high-speed Internet access.

Early this month Internet service provider Mindspring and AT&T announced that they have been working on a deal that would give AT&T customers access to Mindspring on terms that are on par with @Home, which is owned by the telco-cable giant. Kennard said the Mindspring announcement was a good first step, but he emphasized that it’s only a start.

At a separate panel, senior FCC staffers said that an agreement among Internet companies and cablers may not be enough to avoid regulation. The bottom line, the staffers said, is that consumers must have a broad range of choices on a high-speed Internet.

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