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Free broadband access: Spielberg shows how (oops)

Just be famous and influential, and phone bills morph into nothingness...

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It's easy to get free broadband access if you're Steven Spielberg, or in some way connected with Steven Spielberg. Or at least it was, until the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) retained Arthur Andersen to compile a report detailing the stack of illegal freebies local telco GTE had showered on Spielberg, Dreamworks Studios and numerous other Hollywood luminaries and outfits.

The tale of how easy it is for influential people and outfits to get stuff for free is reported in today's Los Angeles Times. It's not of course illegal to be given stuff, and in many sectors it's also perfectly legal to give stuff, but in the California telcoms business favouritism and freebies are ilegal, the rationale being that unimportant customers who don't have a choice of providers oughtn't to have to foot the bill for the mover and shaker demi-gods.

PUC uncovered GTE misconduct on over 100 contracts from 1995 to mid-1998, but GTE - which accepts that it blew it - bleats that the contracts only account for a "tiny" percentage of the $3.5 billion annual revenue it gleans from California. Well, we should hope so too.

But it must have been good while it lasted. Says the Times: Over the pan of at least two years, GTE provided a variety of free services to Spielberg at his home in Pacific Palisades, including dedicated high-speed connections of undetermined value, according to sources." Dreamworks itself scored "a variety of high speed connections," some of them free in exchange for promotional rights. The company also provided free videoconferencing equipment and high speed services to the Playa Vista project, designed as a blueprint for the city of the future. Playa Vista was to have a DreamWorks studio, but the company pulled out.

Why all this generosity? According to the Times, GTE schmoozed the Hollywood entertainment industry intensively because it figured there was a market of $1 billion a year there for the taking. Now it's likely to be fined several million dollars, and Steven Spielberg, presumably, is going to have to get himself a DSL installation organised. ®

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