ACLU Sees "Step Forward" in Government Monitoring of AOL/Time Warner Merger

December 14, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The government took a significant step forward today in requiring the new AOL/Time Warner media company to begin opening up their high speed cable Internet access networks to other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on a non-discriminatory basis.

But although the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took a step in the right direction in requiring that AOL/Time Warner open up their systems to three other ISPs in the short term, and to negotiate with others in good faith, that alone is not sufficient. Ultimately, AOL/Time Warner’s networks should be open to all ISPs for a fair price and on a non-discriminatory basis.

The Internet, as we now know it, is a true market place of ideas. Speakers and listeners with great and small resources have access to an almost unlimited amount of content and diversity of views. That marketplace of ideas is threatened when monopolies that control access to the Internet can also control the available speech.

Internet Service Providers control both the content and the services that their customers can receive. Therefore it is essential that users have a choice of service providers and that a companies like AOL/Time Warner, which own the networks that connect to the Internet, not interfere with the choice of content and services. Broadband Internet network owners should not be able to dictate what portion of the rich and diverse content of the Internet that their customers can receive.

As always, the devil is in the details; it is still unclear whether the consent decree with AOL/ Time Warner will actually accomplish the open access goal. For that reason the American Civil Liberties Union is pleased to see that the FTC will have a significant monitoring role over implementation of the AOL/Time Warner agreement.

Just as important as the AOL/Time Warner case, open access principles should apply to the other 80 percent of the cable industry that will eventually be offering high speed Internet access. The courts have said that the provision of Internet access is a “telecommunications service” subject to regulation by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC should issue comprehensive, industry-wide rules that guarantee that consumers will have a genuine choice of Internet service providers.

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