States seek bills to open cable internet access

At press time, a bill was about to be introduced in the Colorado Legislature that would require cable companies with more than 2,500 subscribers in Colorado to open their systems to competing internet service providers (ISPs).

Colorado is only the latest state to take up the issue of whether to force cable companies to open their broadband services to ISPs. It’s a debate that could have broad implications for schools, which, like consumers, stand to benefit from wider availability of broadband access to the internet.

The Colorado bill would allow consumers to use their current internet providers to get high-speed access through companies such as AT&T and Adelphia Communications, said Rep. Ron May, R-Colorado Springs.

“They can use whatever internet service provider that they want to and not be strapped to the one that the cable company makes an exclusive agreement with,” May said.

Advocates of the bill expect a fight from AT&T, which bought cable firm Tele-Communications Inc. and is acquiring MediaOne Group to provide bundled packages of cable TV, high-speed internet access, and telephone service to consumers.

AT&T and Pennsylvania-based Adelphia would have to offer access to competitors at wholesale cost, plus a “reasonable profit,” according to a draft of the bill.

AT&T calls the plan “forced access” and has been battling it across the country.

“The notion of forced access is just about companies wanting to jump on AT&T’s investment,” AT&T spokeswoman Sarah Duisik said.

In addition to Colorado, at least 14 states have considered legislation similar to May’s proposal, Duisik said. The bills have been defeated in Idaho, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire, she said.

America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. pledged in February that they would give consumers a choice of internet providers by opening their cable TV lines after their planned merger.

The two communications giants announced an agreement to offer consumers a choice of several internet service providers, including AOL, on TimeWarner’s cable TV systems. They called it a first step in a policy of open access in their cable systems.

Colorado General Assembly

AT&T Corp.

America Online

Time Warner Inc.

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