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Open-access redux

Cable should open up not only for its customers, but for its own health. 01/12/03 ReleVents hed: Open-access redux dek: Cable should open up not only for its customers, but for its own health.

Regular readers know that I agonized over broadband decisions before jumping into Qwest DSL, which was a disaster. After I sent everything back and demanded a full refund for the service I never got, I moved on to AT&T Broadband cable service. I resisted cable at first because it would not have provided a choice of modem or ISP. Though the service has been fine, the lack of choice for both modem and provider has come back to haunt me. My RCA modem is so flaky that I have to regularly turn everything off, disconnect everything, wait 45 seconds, reconnect everything, and turn everything back on to re-establish a lost connection. And my ISP–[email protected]–is bankrupt, leaving me with the strong possibility of being without service for a while.

I recently got a letter from one of the higher-ups at AT&T, and in it he assured me that even if AT&T failed to acquire [email protected] and save it from its creditors, AT&T was working on an emergency service that would ensure that everyone stayed connected. A news item on our site last Friday made me somewhat less optimistic. In the story, AT&T Broadband spokeswoman Sarah Eder said it would take some time before all subscribers would get service up and running. “It would be faster for us to migrate customers than it would be for customers to get a DSL [connection],” she said. That’s hardly comforting, especially since I know that I could never get a DSL connection–not where I live, and not with a Macintosh.

Regular readers also know that I have been one of the most vocal proponents of the open access movement, which was started by AOL (until it got cable) and led by a consortium of independent ISPs. The movement has tried unsuccessfully to force cable providers to open up their networks to ISP competition. There have been limited trials, but most broadband cable customers still don’t have a choice of ISPs. The cable companies have resisted opening their networks because it would cost a bit more to do so and would slow down new cable infrastructure.

I have said all along that open access is in the cable companies’ best interests because consumers like choice and would favor cable over DSL by a 2-to-1 margin of were it not for the choice issue. [email protected]’s troubles are Exhibit A for why consumers like choice–if the service stinks or the provider goes belly-up, you can switch. Hopefully, this incident will convince AT&T that open access is also the most cost-effective policy for the company. It will cost the company a lot more money to either buy [email protected] or hook up its customers some other way than it would to adopt open access.

James Mathewson is editor of ComputerUser magazine and

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