Bittlingmayer, George., Hazlett, Thomas, W. "Open access:" The ideal and the real. Telecommunications Policy . June 2002, vol. 26, no. 5, pp. 295-310(16).

Keywords: Open access, end-to-end, DSL, Cable,


Broadband is a work in progress and it is uncertain how broadband content will ultimately reach the end user. As of December 2000, 99 percent of high speed residential connections within the U.S. were in the form of cable or telephony based digital subscriber line (DSL). Cable operators strategically overbuilt their infrastructures and have the advantage in dense urban markets, as such cable broadband is estimated to connect three times as many residences as DSL. Cable-based high speed Internet access threatens DSL’s future in part because cable is largely an unregulated network while DSL is regulated according to common carrier rules - currently under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, only DSL is regulated because the telephone companies must keep their lines open to competition. “Open access” means that local exchanges carriers must open their networks to the competition by unbundling network elements (UNE) -- components of the local exchange carrier infrastructure and offering them at regulated a regulated price. The idea behind “open access” was to preserve the _‘end-to-end’ principle of the original Internet while stimulating innovation and competition. Contrary to regulatory hope, cable operators are deploying cable modems at roughly two times the rate of DSL in the residential market. Cable’s “closed” platform is apparently winning the broadband race in the marketplace..

The open access debate is the result of political pressure from telephone companies and telephone-based ISP’s to provide mandatory access to cable networks. Cables opposition to open access is based in part on the “technical issues” involved in configuring cable systems for multiple ISPs. More importantly, the cable industry wants to avoid federally mandated “open access” regulation and common carrier status for economic reasons; open access would force cable operators to provide access at below market rates.

The authors examine the political realities of regulation and economic issues that make up the open access debate and conclude that there is no proof that innovation and competition are threatened by cable’s “closed” platforms. The authors believe that the best hope for broadband is a business model that promises at least a competitive return on investment and risk-taking.