A Common Cause?

Those of us in the Internet industries are accustomed to finding common cause in times of controversy. On issues of liberty or taxation your interests and those of your Internet Service Provider (ISP) are usually the same interest.

But now ISPs are on the warpath against AT&T and I have to ask whether it’s in the interests of e-commerce houses to stand with them.

The March cover of Boardwatch Magazine, which serves the ISP industry, shows a figure representing AT&T threatening to commit suicide. The company, which recently acquired the cable networks of Tele-Communications Inc., is fighting efforts to give rivals access to its cable as it prepares to put billions into upgrading them for cable modem service.

Telephone companies are called “common carriers,” and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has moved repeatedly to give rival companies access to those systems. That means ISPs can become Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs), placing their equipment next to local phone switches, and offer broadband services like ADSL in competition with the local Bells.

Broadband, as we all know, is good for e-stores. Broadband lets you offer a more realistic experience to your customers, and boosts sales. The more customers who have access to broadband, the better.

Now AT&T promises to offer consumers a choice of broadband technologies. It’s issuing $8 billion in bonds to pay for it. All it asks, for that investment, is the right to control its own wires. If ISPs win their fight to make cable a “common carrier” technology, AT&T may back out of the investment (thus the cover with AT&T threatening suicide), and the age of broadband may be delayed for years.

So, whose side are you on? It shouldn’t matter who offers consumers broadband service, even though you might prefer a lot of competitors to a few. But I’m willing to be persuaded — persuade me.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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