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AT&T to open up high-speed network

AT&T plans to give customers a choice of Internet service providers that wish to use its high-speed Net access services, executives wrote in a letter to the FCC.

NEW YORK--AT&T plans to give customers a choice of Internet service providers that wish to use its high-speed Net access services, including the company's broadband cable and fixed wireless systems, the telecommunications giant wrote today in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission.

Earlier today, the New York-based company announced a deal with one of the country's largest ISPs, MindSpring Enterprises, allowing the company to use AT&T's high-speed networks. Users of AT&T's "broadband" network previously had to sign up through Excite@Home, a subsidiary of AT&T. But once AT&T and Excite@Home's contracts expire in 2002, MindSpring will be allowed to use AT&T's cable systems.

Speaking at the AT&T's analysts' conference here, chairman Michael Armstrong said he hopes that opening up the company's network to other ISPs will accelerate the number of people signing up for broadband Net access.

The company said customers will be able to use AT&T's fixed wireless systems to connect to an ISP of their choice once the systems are up and running beginning next year. Those using AT&T's broadband cable systems will have the same choice once technical issues have been addressed, and after AT&T's exclusive contract with Excite@Home expires in mid-2002. AT&T said it will not extend that exclusivity agreement.

The move comes at a time when AT&T is waiting for a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Ore., as to whether it can be legally forced to open up its high-speed network to outside ISPs.

The company outlined its commitment to open up its network in a letter sent today to William Kennard, the chairman of the FCC. The letter was co-signed by AT&T general counsel James Cicconi and MindSpring vice president David Baker. Kenneth S. Fellman, chairman of the FCC's Local and State Government Advisory Committee, also signed the letter.

John Zeglis, currently president of AT&T who was today tapped as the chairman and chief executive of the AT&T Wireless Group, said the company is approaching all national ISPs to cut high-speed access deals. He declined to name any. America Online, the country's largest online service provider, has been pushing AT&T to open up its network.

Among other things, the letter to FCC chairman Kennard said AT&T will allow ISPs to brand their services, and market them directly to consumers.