FCC's Kennard slams open access ruling

The head of the FCC predicts "chaos" for the Internet if local authorities are allowed to regulate broadband access, following a controversial ruling in Portland, Oregon.

3 min read
CHICAGO--Federal Communications Commission chairman William Kennard predicted chaos and stymied growth for the Internet if local authorities were allowed to regulate broadband services.

In front of a crowd of receptive industry executives at the National Cable Television Association convention here, Kennard slammed recent legal decisions over the deployment of broadband services that would give regulatory authority to local municipalities.

"There are 30,000 local franchises in the United States. If each one decided on their own to develop technology standards for two-way communications on the cable infrastructure, there would be chaos," Kennard said.

Kennard's comments were his first public statements on the court decision in Portland, Oregon, that gave local authorities the right to force AT&T to open its cable networks to competing ISPs. An open network was imposed as a condition of transferring the city's cable license from Tele-Communications Incorporated to AT&T.

Internet access providers such as America Online and MindSpring Enterprises want to offer high-speed cable modem services to their growing subscriber bases. But cable TV networks, which offer Internet access via proprietary services such as Excite@Home and Road Runner, are closed to unaffiliated ISPs.

"It is in the national interest that we have a national broadband policy," Kennard told the audience. That policy is to let the industry grow as the market dictates, he said, but the decision in Portland would have a decidedly opposite effect. .

"The fact is there is a role for national policy?we have to have a national standard in this area," Kennard said as the audience applauded. Taking a lead from the medical field, Kennard coined the policy as the "Hippocratic high-tech oath--do no harm."

Industry executives, who gave Kennard a standing ovation after his speech, were equally effusive in their commentary.

Leo Hindery, who head's AT&T's cable unit, noted that "The chairman said this is a federal issue and we're delighted that he reiterated his strong stance. I thought it was a very harsh indictment of the Portland decision.

"We have argued for a long time that this is not an issue that is resolvable at the local level?If national telecom policy is decided franchise by franchise, that's not a policy," he said after Kennard's keynote.

AT&T chief executive C. Michael Armstrong echoed similar sentiments in yesterday's press conference. "If indeed federal policy is shifted to local municipalities, through the franchise license process, the outcome will be chaos," he said of the Portland decision.

Armstrong noted that he had met late last week with Kennard and other FCC commissioners on the open access issue.

Outgoing NCTA president Decker Anstrom said "It's clear [Kennard] doesn't feel regulatory intervention is appropriate," noting that the cable industry will continue to invest in the nation's cable infrastructure.

While the audience of cable executives received Kennard's comments favorably, the chairman did not pass up the opportunity to remind cable operators of their obligations to wire all of America--including rural and inner-cities--with high-speed Internet connections.

Anstrom said the industry will "meet his challenge to make sure [broadband service] is available everywhere." He added that the industry is participating in programs to wire schools with cable modem access.