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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

AOL's Stance on Open Access To Cable Networks in Doubt

LOS ANGELES -- Despite America Online's assurances that buying cable giant Time Warner won't weaken its support for opening cable lines to outside Internet companies, consumer groups say AOL is no longer an aggressive advocate for "open access."

"[AOL chairman] Steve Case now is being very ambiguous," said Erik Sten, a city commissioner in Portland, Oregon. Portland is trying to force cable operators to open their networks to rival Internet operators. "So this merger underscores the fact that government action is absolutely needed to ensure open access and a fair playing field."

On Monday, executives from AOL and Time Warner pledged to open Time Warner's cable networks to rival Internet firms and to back open access. But they also talked about taking the open-access debate "out of Washington and out of City Hall and put in the marketplace."

Open-access advocates were alarmed. "[AOL] has spent millions of dollars to lobby city councils, the Federal Communications Commission and Congress on open access," said Gene Kimmelman, co-director of the Washington office of Consumers Union. "This is clearly a pullback from their previous stance."

Currently, cable operators that sell fast Internet access package their service with an affiliated Internet service provider. But consumer groups and local telephone companies want customers to be able to choose among Internet service providers.

The AOL/Time Warner deal would lead to "a surreptitious use of favoritism and tilting the playing field in favor of particular [Internet] services," Kimmelman said. "That's what the fear is."