March 13, 2000 5:10 PM PST

New group seeks to block ISP cable access

A new coalition focusing on the battle for control of cable companies' high-speed Internet lines is siding with AT&T and Excite@Home.

Dubbed "Net Compete Now," the group is made up of think tanks, a smattering of Internet service providers (ISPs), community groups and e-commerce companies such as Egghead.com.

The coalition joins a long list of other local and national groups taking one side or the other of the debate, many of them supported directly or indirectly by erstwhile chief combatants AT&T and America Online. AOL and other ISPs launched the so-called open access campaign several years ago, hoping to offer their own services over the cable companies' lines. However, cable companies, including AT&T, have so far managed to keep the networks closed to anyone other than their own affiliates, such as Excite@Home or Road Runner. Net Compete Now will focus specifically on blocking state legislation aimed at prying open the cable lines for use by other ISPs.

"We're trying to keep the government away from high-speed Net access," said spokesman Steven Susens. "So far the marketplace has been working, and we want to keep it that way."

The battle over access to high-speed Internet cable lines, once crystallized by AOL's attempt to win a foothold in AT&T's cable networks, has been muddied since AOL's merger with Time Warner. That merger will give the ISP ownership of its own huge cable network, moving the company closer to AT&T's ideological camp.

AOL has backed High speed pipe dreams?away from some of its high-profile lobbying efforts at the state and local level. But it has said that it would maintain its role as open access champion, allowing other ISPs into Time Warner's cable system after that merger is complete.

While a few legislative battles on the issue are brewing around the country, advocates on both sides are most closely watching the outcome of a federal court case in Portland, Ore. In that city last year, local regulators ordered AT&T to open its cable network to other ISPs as a condition of approving its merger with Tele-Communications.

AT&T sued to overturn that judgment, and a ruling on whether local regulators had the power to make that decision is pending.

The Net Compete Now group will unveil its platform and local lobbying efforts at a Santa Clara, Calif., event tomorrow.

 

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