Judge orders AT&T to open cable net

By David Rohde, Network World |  Networking

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."

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