Broadband Cable: The Open-Access Debate

A NetAction White Paper

By Bob Jacobson[*]


The communication revolution we've been waiting for is almost here. New technological advances and an enlightened policy framework will soon enable Americans to enjoy a plethora of communications services. These services will make our work more productive; our leisure more rewarding; our relationships at once deeper and more extensive; and our world a more accessible, understandable place.

One of those technological advances is broadband cable. Most of us know cable, the technology, by the familiar service it currently offers, "cable television," the simultaneous one-way transmission of hundreds of television channels.

But newer, enhanced broadband cable can and is doing more: in a growing number of localities, broadband cable provides local telephone service and high-speed access to the Internet. These services are the subject of the policy controversy which this white paper addresses.

This paper is divided into four sections:

  1. The current policy controversy
  2. A closer look at the contenders' positions
  3. Environmental factors: law, regulation, technology, and markets
  4. Policy recommendations

NetAction's position is that the current controversy will prove short-lived, based as it is on largely hypothetical positions. As broadband cable technology continues to evolve, it is increasingly important to agree on a popularly shared vision for the future, one that provides a sound basis for long-term communications and information policy.

Next: The Current Policy Controversy

Dr. Robert Jacobson is on the advisory board of NetAction, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for effective grassroots citizen action campaigns, and to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology policy issues. He has served as a telecommunications and information policy consultant for SRI Consulting as well as the co-founder and associate director of the Human Interface Technology Laboratory at the University of Washington. In the 1980s, he was a principal consultant and staff director of the California State Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce for which he authored the 1981 report, Access Rights to the Electronic Marketplace, and many cutting-edge pieces of legislation. In 1984, he managed to passage the Electronic Commerce Act -- the first document to identify and describe the phenomenon of online business. Bob can be reached by email at .

Help educate your local, state, and Congressional representatives about the open access debate by sending them a copy of this white paper. It is available as a single HTML document, in ASCII text, in MS Word 5.1 and Rich Text Format (RTF) for import into most other word processors, a postscript version for download to your printer, and a PDF version.