Appeals court finding on cable, Internet competition offers broadcasters a glimpse of broader policy debate

On Oct. 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against the FCC, preventing it from adopting a policy that would have allowed cable companies to exclude competitive ISPs from offering service over their broadband cable Internet networks. The court said cable companies’ Internet services continue to be classified as a telecommunication service and thus must be subject to the same regulations that govern high-speed Internet service offerings from phone companies.

On the surface, the effect of this ruling for broadcasters seems to be of little consequence. However, it has called attention to a war being waged in the FCC over the shape of telecommunications and media in the new millennium and one of those battlefields is the future shape of broadcasting.

Speaking before the New American Foundation public policy group in Washington, D.C., FCC Commissioner Michael Copps last week put the commission’s Internet proposals into a bigger context. “Across almost the entire communications landscape, the Commission is allowing, networks to be closed, competition to be undermined and innovation to be stifled,” he said.

He told the group: “On one of those fronts, the battle still rages over the Commission’s decision to allow massive concentration in the media world…. Down one path was a reaffirmation of America’s commitment to local control of our media, diversity in news and outlook.

“Down the other path was evermore control over media choke-points by fewer corporate giants,” Copps continued. “Down this path we surrender awesome powers over our news, information and entertainment to a handful of large conglomerates, empowering the latter to tighten the circle of their control and to deny contrasting news, information and viewpoints the oxygen of distribution they need in order to breathe.”

Seen in this context, broadcasters might do well to track developments in the cable, Internet ,legal and public policy debate.

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