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Regulators urge TCI to open cables

An Oregon cable television regulatory body rules that TCI should allow ISPs access to the @Home Network.

A local cable television regulatory body in Oregon has ruled that Tele-Communications Incorporated should allow other ISPs access to the company's @Home Network high-speed Net access service.

Last week's recommendation, by the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, an appointed cable TV oversight agency in Oregon, calls for TCI to open access to its @Home cable modem service, as part of its $48 billion merger with telecommunications giant AT&T.

Some critics of the megamerger want TCI, a majority owner in @Home, to open its broadband cable wires to others. Several consumer groups sought to block the transfer of cable licenses from TCI to AT&T in public comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission last month.

America Online has been one of the most vocal critics of the TCI-@Home relationship, and also is lobbying for access to the high-speed pipes.

Similarly, the Mt. Hood commission's recommendation calls for open access for Internet service providers as a condition of transferring local Oregon TCI cable franchises to AT&T.

The recommendation calls for "nondiscriminatory treatment of other providers in connection with TCI's proposed Internet cable modem platform and services."

"The decision speaks in favor or competition and?a variety of consumer choice," said David Olson, director of cable communications for the city of Portland.

The recent trend in regulatory laws has been toward breaking down walls--not putting them up, Olson said.

"Open access tends to contain prices and enhance services," he said.

TCI contends the Portland cable commission does not have the authority to impose changes on the company and that the recommendation is just that.

"Mt. Hood doesn't have the jurisdiction to be making these kinds of decisions," said TCI spokeswoman Katina Vlahadamis. "We're strongly disappointed that the commission didn't provide AT&T and ourselves a chance to address them."

Vlahadamis said 937 of TCI's 4,000 franchises have a contractual right to re-examine the deals if there is a change in ownership and "we're diligently working with the franchises to answer any questions they have."