ACLU taking up open-access banner


The American Civil Liberties Union is stepping up its fight to make cable
companies carry competing Internet-service providers on their broadband networks.

The ACLU joins a growing list of new supporters for the idea, including Inc. and the National Association of Broadcasters.

"We think this may be the key First Amendment issue for the 21st
century," ACLU associate director Barry Steinhardt said.

ACLU officials, along with longtime open-access supporters in the media
advocacy community, met separately Wednesdat with Federal Communications
Commission chairman Michael Powell and Sens. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) and Patrick
Leahy (D-Vt.) to present them with a technical report describing several types
of open- and closed-access cable-broadband architectures.

Without "true" open-access rules, cable companies will block companies from
providing full-length movies and other products that compete directly with
cable's core television business or with retailers that have business
affiliations with cable operators.

"It is particularly important to preserve the Internet as an open medium
given the media consolidation going on," said Jeffrey Chester, president of the
Center for Digital Democracy.

Current multiple-ISP plans offered by cable generally do not allow rival ISPs
to offer novel services, and they carry such a high wholesale price that the carried
providers have a hard time making a profit.

Chester and Steinhardt also said they would pass on to the policymakers
reports of a cable company that threatened to block access to the site of a
major movie studio that wanted to stream theatrical films before they have been
released to cable movie channels.