Discussion Papers

Rudolf Pospischil

Repositionierung von AT&T - Eine Analyse zur Entwicklung von 1983 bis 1998
Nr. 190 / Dezember 1998

Summary

The Internet as a dynamic and evolving medium of communication tends to be more and more attractive for a growing number of commercial and residential users. The liberalization of the telecommunications sector as well as the competition between network operators and service providers benefit the spread of the Internet. It becomes more important for all areas of living and even partially replaces traditional forms of information and communication. An increasing number of fields of communications and functions seem to be integrated into the Internet world and turn to be virtual. At the same time one can observe the trend of the commercialization of services and knowledge on the Internet.

According to this development an intensive debate started in many countries, in which way "open access" to communications, information and knowledge can be safeguarded to private users in a liberalized and competitive market. This study focuses on the content-orientated and conceptual dimensions of "open access". The analysis of central terms and the structure of arguments lines out, that "open access" strongly is endepted to different social aims, group interests and political expectations.

Especially the concept of universal service in telecommunications is considered as the basic concept for ensuring "open access". This means that universal service is discussed to be extended beyond basic telephone services. The first point is that the minimum provision should not only include basic communications services like POTS but should also comprise a certain bandwidth. The second point tackles the aspect, that "open access" should not only include "techological access", e.g. connectivity, but also should provide universal access to content and services like educational, medical and social information or for example e-mail-communications. The third important aspect deals with the extension of the former individual-related universal-service-concept to a more institutional service provision based on public access points.

Examples of present regulation policies unveil that various strategies for the provision of "open access" are pursued. In all liberalised countries the availability and accessability of networks, services and contents primarily are to be provided by market forces. In the USA the NI-initiative has tried to integrate industrial and social policy extending universal service to the provision of content to schools and public libraries. This aims at promoting the diffusion and acceptance of Internet-communications and at improving external beneficial effects.

The European Commission tends to turn down this strategy, arguing, that the promotion of "open access" in public institutions mainly issues social-, educational and medical objectives. Therefore it should not or not only be financed by the telecommunications sector. A similar position is taken in Great Britain, though Oftel succeeded in organizing a bargaining process. The national carriers have been convinced to support educational institutions by providing "open access". They agreed to adapt the regulatory framework on tariffs and interconnection. In Australia finally the main purpose of "open access" is the supply of rural sites due to the specific geographical structure. Access to broadband capacities and publicly relevant content are supported by financial contributions which are limited in time. In the long run access is to be ensured by the competition of the carriers.

New communications options and lower tariff rates will promote the penetration of the Internet in private households. This will foster the discussion on "open access" to Internet services in Germany within the next few years. Because a lack on experiences on regulatory measures can be stated, there remains research to be conducted on the aspects like affordability and accessability to different user groups and the development of regulatory concepts on "open access" provision.

Only German language version available.

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