FCC Broadband Report Backs Hands-Off Approach

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday appeared to favor a hands-off approach in the broadband access debate when its Cable Services Bureau recommended that the FCC continue to monitor developments in the broadband industry and resist pressure to regulate it.

The bureau issued the recommendation in a report on the state of the U.S. broadband industry, which was based on information collected during discussions involving representatives of the cable, telephone and Internet services industries, as well as local regulators and analysts.

The key issue facing the industry is the lack of a national regulation to allow access to multiple Internet service providers over cable systems. ISPs that are not affiliated with a cable company have complained that customers who select AT& T Corp.'s broadband service automatically will have the AT& T-owned Home@Excite as their ISP, and customers of Time Warner's broadband service will have the company's RoadRunner ISP.

According to the report, cable industry representatives made the familiar argument that the enormous investment risks they have taken in building their networks "should not be jeopardized by saddling cable with government regulation."

"The absence of regulation has been one of the principal factors contributing to the growth of cable modem deployment in the United States," the report quotes one investment analyst as saying.

In a letter to FCC chairman William Kennard, the Media Access Project (www.mediaaccess.org), a nonprofit public interest law firm based in Washington, D.C., complained that the bureau's report will confuse local municipalities that look to the FCC for guidance because it gives the appearance of official FCC regulation.

"We believe that issuing of 'guidance' or other recommendations, even camouflaged as policy analysis, would be incompatible with your expressed policy of 'watchful waiting' on the open access issue," the letter stated. "Most important, a 'staff report' is susceptible to mischaracterization as an official policy statement."

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