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FCC Opens Inquiry on Cable Internet Access Policy

September 29, 2000|From Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — U.S. regulators took the first step to determine whether cable companies such as Time Warner Inc. should be required to lease high-speed Internet connections to rivals, ending two years of government inaction.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday asked industry and the public for comments to shape a policy on access in which cable television operators would share their lines with rivals providing Internet access. Specifically, the agency wants to know how it can treat all high-speed Internet services equally.

Internet service providers and cable companies have fought for more than two years over access to the broadband connections into the home. The issue also has surfaced in the regulatory review of America Online Inc.'s proposed purchase of Time Warner.

"I have strongly advocated a policy of regulatory restraint in the cable modem services market," said FCC Chairman William Kennard in a statement. "It is unclear, however, whether a marketplace solution will develop absent some form of intervention."

The FCC said the inquiry is separate from its review of AOL Time Warner and the agency retains an option to force the companies to lease their lines to competitors, if such a measure is needed.

For two years, the FCC has declined to regulate access to the fast Internet connections over cable. A federal appeals court ruling in June prompted the FCC to take another look at the need for a nationwide policy on opening access to cable lines. It will be months before the agency decides on any new policies.

"The FCC should have already played much more of a leadership role than it has," said Dave Baker, vice president of law and public policy at EarthLink Inc. "We just hope the [inquiry] at this point isn't too little too late." Atlanta-based EarthLink is the No. 2 Internet provider.

The agency is seeking responses within 75 days to its series of questions. The commission wants comment on how it should define cable Internet service and advice on the possible effects regulatory action would have.

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