AOL Denies Open Access Pledge Reversal

America Online, Inc. has denied a claim by well-respected San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor that it is backing off its promise to support open access to broadband cable systems.

In a syndicated column, Gillmor wrote Monday that, “As several major news organizations have reported in recent days, AOL’s commitment to open access has, ahem, evolved. The giant online media company ordered its lobbyists to tone down, if not turn off, the open access rhetoric and persuasion. Now, AOL says piously, the marketplace should take care of the situation.”

In an interview with the E-Commerce Times, AOL spokesperson Kathy McKiernan flatly denied the report. “AOL is still strongly committed to open access,” she said. “It was true when we announced the merger and it is true today.”

McKiernan expressly said that AOL still supports allowing multiple ISPs to have access to broadband cable systems as “both Steve Case and Gerald Levin have previously stated.”

Where There’s Smoke

One of the main concerns of the proposed AOL Time Warner merger has been that the new company will back off the strong position that AOL had taken on requiring cable companies to provide open access to ISPs that wish to offer broadband Internet access services.

When AOL did not have any access to broadband cable pipelines, it was the vocal champion of pushing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require cable companies to provide such access.

Did AOL Pull a Turn Around?

When the merger was first announced, Steve Case, the proposed chairman of the merged company, said that he anticipated no change in AOL’s position. Numerous skeptics questioned whether this position could possibly be true.

At the time, the E-Commerce Times quoted respected industry author Don Tapscott as saying, “The AOL merger with Time Warner is a marriage made in heaven, or hell — depending on your perspective. If you’re a shareholder, it’s cloud nine. But if you’re a consumer, consider suiting up in asbestos.”

“Until yesterday, AOL was officially incensed at the arrogance of the cable monopolies,” Tapscott continued. “Time and again company officials would appeal to municipalities that controlled the cable channel licenses that the cable architecture should be open to all content providers. Now that AOL has a hammerlock on millions of American homes, it is doubtful that they will continue to harp on this theme.”

Is AOL Is Bcking Off?

Dan Gillmor, who was one of the many skeptics, was quick to react to what he claimed were reports from major news organizations about a change of position. AOL claims that these reports are absolutely not true.

So, who is correct? This case is one where only time will tell. However, one thing is for certain. The stronger the denials of a change now, the harder it will be for AOL to change its position later.

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