The Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, which regulates cable television for six local governments in Oregon, has called on the FCC to open a hearing to consider a controversial policy requiring cable operators to open their networks to competition.
But in its recent broadband report, the FCC decided to delay any substantive decisions on the open access issue--effectively leaving Oregon officials out on a limb. Although other local governments are still considering the issue--including Seattle and Oakland, California--Portland is the only one so far willing to take a stand over open access.
The issue has gained momentum since the Mt. Hood commission first recommended open access in November. Several regional and national Internet service providers (ISPs), including America Online and MindSpring Enterprises, support open access to cable as they want to use the broadband networks to deliver their own advanced digital services.
Open access proponents fear consumers will have no other choice but to use cable companies' own ISP services, such as @Home and Road Runner, if other ISPs aren't allowed to offer competing high-speed services over the cable networks. Traditional dial-up competitors, such as AOL and MindSpring, are afraid they'll be locked out of the broadband boom without open access.
The Oregon commission recommended a policy that would require Tele-Communications Incorporated to open its networks as part of its $48 billion merger with AT&T. Portland, Oregon, and Multnomah County officials then denied the transfer of local cable franchise licenses to AT&T from TCI, when the companies refused to comply with the open access plan.
Oregon officials said federal guidance is particularly important now that Portland and Multnomah County are facing a lawsuit from AT&T and TCI over the cable license denial. City and county officials must respond to the court case by Monday.
In the comments--the first time Oregon officials have formally addressed the FCC--the Mt. Hood commission said it acted on what it thought was a "broad, federally-encouraged policy of providing for competition, deregulation, and an open and accessible marketplace in communications and Internet access."
Mt. Hood commissioners said, in the documents, the merger is the right time to explore the so-called open access policy because the combined AT&T-TCI is "a transfer with national significance." And, commissioners contend their proposed policy would not unduly constrain the companies and their network rollouts.
Although the FCC did not make any definitive decision on open access last week, FCC commissioners did not completely rule out revisiting the issue at a later date. That possibility leaves Oregon officials with some degree of hope.
"The [Mt. Hood commission] hopes that the FCC will not through inaction encourage investment and deployment of a proprietary cable modem platform which will be dominated by a single, incumbent cable carrier," the documents read. "In the absence of FCC action, it is likely that the proprietary cable modem platforms will become the cable industry norm.
"This can only damage the openness and innovation that has made the Internet the unfettered medium it is today."