AT&T lauds access decision –

AT&T Corp. today applauded last night's vote by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to reject a proposal to force the telecommunications giant to open its cable networks to rival Internet service providers if the city of Portland, Ore., succeeds in its attempts to open access.

"We think it was a fair outcome and one that really serves the best interest of the consumers in San Francisco," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T general counsel.

The San Francisco board approved a measure submitted by a city supervisor after a recess in the board's public hearing on open access. The measure amends the city's franchise agreement with AT&T, permitting more time for AT&T to lobby against open access and other pre-emptive actions. The board voted to allow the city to re-examine the issue in December.

Open access is a rancorous topic these days in a number of cities. Entrenched local telecommunications providers and Internet service providers are pushing regulators to force cable companies to open access to their broadband networks to third parties. Proponents of open access want cable companies to have to open their networks to competitors under deals that match those the cable operators give to their chosen Internet service providers. Cable providers typically contract with Internet service providers to offer Internet access via cable broadband networks, forcing consumers to use that provider and stripping users of any choice in the matter, proponents of open access argue.

AT&T has emerged as a potential cable giant with recent acquisitions, including Excite@Home and MediaOne Group, and has been challenged in a number of communities. The Broward County Commission in Florida recently voted 4-3 to force open access in some areas of the county. GTE Corp., which offers local telecommunications service, pushed for that measure there and has pitted itself against AT&T.

AT&T is appealing that vote, and its briefs in that appeal are expected to be finished the first week of August, Cicconi said during today's press conference. Similar measures to force open access are being considered in other cities, including Denver. Such attempts are likely to continue, he said.

Open access is supported by an industry group called the OpenNet Coalition, which includes 200 Internet service providers that are pushing to open Internet cable networks to competition. The coalition last night released a written statement in response to the San Francisco vote, applauding the board's intention to reopen the issue in December when the franchise again comes up for consideration.

"We continue to be encouraged by these votes since all we're asking for is a chance to buy the high-speed access," OpenNet co-director Greg Simon said in the written statement. "We want to pay for access, but AT&T is intent on continuing to build its monopoly and shut out smaller [Internet service providers] to the detriment of consumers."

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