By HOWARD FINE
Telecom companies spent nearly $250,000 during the second quarter to lobby L.A. City Hall over who should have access to high-speed cable lines for Internet service, according to reports filed with the L.A. City Ethics Commission.
Combined with a similar amount spent during the first quarter, that’s roughly half a million lobbying dollars so far this year on the cable Internet access issue making it one of the costliest lobbying campaigns ever at City Hall.
“The stakes are very high because the issue is whether we’re going to have consumer choice to get to the Internet via cable or not,” said George Kieffer, an attorney with the law firm Manatt, Phelps and Phillips LLP., which is representing GTE Internetworking Inc.
The city is now considering who should get access to high-speed Internet service over cable lines. Currently, it’s a monopoly held by the cable franchisees whoever owns the cable lines gets to provide the high-speed Internet service.
But phone companies like GTE and Pacific Telesis, and Internet service providers like America Online, are trying to get permission to tap into those cable lines and the potential profits that high-speed Internet access might bring.
Cable operators, led by AT & T; Corp., want to retain their exclusive rights to the cable lines that they have spent billions of dollars to install.
The issue first came up this past winter during the approval process of AT & T;’s purchase of Tele-Communications Inc. At the beginning of the second quarter there was a lull in lobbying L.A. City Hall, as other cities took center stage. By the end of the quarter, activity picked up again. Since lobbying fees are reported only after the billings are paid, much of this activity won’t show up until the third quarter.
During the second quarter, AT & T; spent $40,000 on lobbying fees, primarily to the L.A. lobbying firm of Rose & Kindel. AOL spent $52,000 during the quarter, with virtually all of that money going to Marathon Communications Inc.
Marathon owner and lobbyist Richard Lichtenstein said most of the money was for work performed during the first quarter but paid for during the second quarter. He said his firm stopped working for AOL in March and began working again on the issue in June, this time for GTE.
Lichtenstein said the lobbying fees reported probably do not reflect the total amount spent lobbying City Hall on the cable-Internet access issue.
“There are lots of other players who haven’t seen the need to register as lobbyists,” he said. “Either they don’t meet the monetary threshold ($4,000 per quarter) or they are doing other things besides lobbying in the legal sense, such as public relations.”
The Los Angeles Cable Operators Association, which represents cable companies like MediaOne and Century Communications Inc., paid $45,000 in lobbying fees during the second quarter to two firms: the Afriat Consulting Group Inc. and Strategy Workshop Inc.
Century Communications itself paid $12,500 to Cerrell Associates Inc., although some of that went toward the separate issue of a rate increase.
And Pacific Telesis paid $22,500 in lobbying fees during the second quarter for its in-house lobbyists; however that money went towards six separate issues, only one of which involved cable Internet access.