Monday, June 27, 2005

Court rules cable companies don't have to share

In another of the rulings out of the Supreme Court today, the Justices said that cable companies do not have to grant rival ISP's access to their physical infrastructure.

::::::::The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that cable companies may keep rival Internet providers from using their lines, a decision that will limit competition and consumers' choices.

The 6-3 decision is a victory for the Bush administration, which sought exclusive control to promote broadband investment from deep-pocketed cable companies.

Judges should defer to the expertise of the Federal Communications Commission , which concluded that limited access is best for the industry, the high court said in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas.

19 million homes have cable broadband service. At issue is whether cable Internet access is a "telecommunications service" under federal law that makes it subject to strict FCC rules requiring companies to provide access to independent providers.

The FCC said no, voting in March 2002 to exempt cable companies from the strict rules to stir more investment. The agency reasoned that high-speed Internet over cable was just an "information service," making it different from phone companies.

I can't say that I agree with the FCC's comment. I can see both sides of this argument. How is this different from requiring that local phone carriers carry calls originating on long distance carriers' networks? Verizon can't, for example, simply decide they're not going to carry calls coming from AT&T, or allow a caller attached to Verizon from using MCI instead of Verizon's own long distance. The only way to justify punting on this one is to agree that cable isn't really a telecommunications service, something that fails horribly when you know what the hell you're talking about. Done deal, tho. I guess any start-up ISP would be better off to deploy 802.16-style systems to provide access to the "last mile" over the airwaves. Want suggestions? E-mail me.