Judge orders AT&T to open cable net

PORTLAND, ORE. - AT&T's newly acquired broadband cable lines may have to be made available to all ISPs and their customers after all.

The federal district court in Portland, Ore., ruled June 4 that the local board doling out cable TV franchises has the right to insist that AT&T provide open access to its cable systems. That ruling contradicts a recent Federal Communications Commission decision that basically lets AT&T keep cable TV-based local loops to itself as the carrier buys up cable properties.

AT&T has insisted that government regulators shouldn't force the company to make its cable lines available to independent ISPs such as America Online, though AT&T officials claim they may eventually choose to do so.

For now, the Portland decision only applies to the local market, where AT&T bought the cable system from Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) and doesn't overturn the FCC's national policy. But the decision may open the floodgates to similar court rulings elsewhere, leaving AT&T's cable strategy in limbo.

AT&T lobbyists had battled tenaciously against local cable authorities who had threatened to hold up its TCI merger on the open access issue, with Portland's cable board one of the last holdouts.

Mark Rosenblum, AT&T's vice president-law, called the Portland decision "inexplicable." He claimed the federal judge's decision failed to address many of AT&T's legal arguments, leaving the way open to an appeal. Without promising such an appeal, Rosenblum said, "Clearly we will continue to pursue our legal case."

This story, "Judge orders AT&T to open cable net" was originally published by Network World.

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