U.S. Congressman Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), who has spent years battling cable operators over rising rates and anti-competitive programming contracts, has teamed with former Massachusetts Governor William Weld and the openNET Coalition of Internet service providers to support a state ballot initiative that would force cable companies to let ISPs use their lines.
Earlier this fall, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered cable companies to stop discriminating against ISPs when negotiating agreements for use of their wires.
According to the FCC, cable operators had been making it a general practice to charge third-party ISPs far more than the reasonable cost for using cable lines in consumers’ homes to deliver faster Internet service. This situation has taken place largely because cable operators offer competing Internet access services.
Despite the FCC’s ruling, Markey and his colleagues in Massachusetts argue that the states should, with their residents’ backing, require cable companies to allow consumer choice and open access for high-speed cable Internet connections. The effort is rooted in Massachusetts, but will be expanded throughout the country, Markey’s supporters said.
The Massachusetts Coalition for Consumer Choice and Competition on the Internet has already collected more than enough voter signatures to place the initiative on the November 2000 ballot in that state.
“My longstanding position is that telecommunications monopolies should be broken up and that consumer choice and competition is the right policy,” Markey said. “Passage of this state initiative will send a powerful message that Massachusetts consumers want open access, consumer choice and competition for cable Internet service.”
Markey also said that he will work to make a ban on discriminatory contracts for ISPs that use cable wires a part of federal law when Congress returns in January. “Open, affordable access to the latest Internet technologies is important for our economy, our education system and for consumers,” he said.
Weld added that the initiative would put current and would-be ISPs all over the country onto the oft-cited “level playing field.”
“By guaranteeing consumer choice and competition, it will result in lower costs and better service for consumers, and prevent cable companies from forcing consumers to pay for Internet services they don’t want or use,” Weld said. Fair pricing deals will improve consumer choice for Internet access, because more ISPs will be able to afford to offer higher-speed services, the group argues.
Wide Range Of Participants
While Markey and Weld are politicians who are seeking legislative solutions, the openNET Coalition represents nearly 1,000 Internet service providers that are seeking a foothold on the cable companies’ super-fast lines. Those cables, which pass more than 80 percent of U.S. TV homes and deliver subscription TV services to more than 65 percent of them, have greater capacity than the telephone lines that typical ISPs use.
The openNET Coalition includes major ISPs such as MindSpring, Prodigy and America Online. Several consumer groups, including the Consumer Federation of America, also support the effort.