AT&T Told to Hand Over Keys to Superhighway

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Sharing was not what AT&T had in mind when it went on a cable-company shopping spree in the past year, snapping up MediaOne and TCI in hopes of dominating the future of one-stop phone and broadband Internet access. But the courts are not proving to be cooperative. Despite a massive lobbying operation by AT&T, the Broward County (Fla.) Commission voted 4-3 Tuesday to require MediaOne to share its cable TV lines with rival providers of high-speed Internet access. The decision echoes one in June against TCI in Portland, Ore., and if the trend holds, things look bad for Ma Cable’s next monopoly.

Precedent-setter that it was, the small-town commission was besieged by armies of lobbyists from both AT&T and rival long-distance company GTE. ("I've never been as uncomfortable in my political life," said one.) And as hard as AT&T tried, they’ve got the harder case to make — that no choice beats choice any day. Having bought the railroad tracks of the new millennium, though, AT&T just wants to make the purchases worth its while. So they’ll lease the lines out, exacting a fee that will allow the owner to undercut its competitors when it comes to bidding for customers’ love. It’ll ease the pain, but they’re none too happy that their brand new superhighway is turning out to be a car pool lane.