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Federal court overturns FCC cable modem decision

Cable television operators must allow a choice of service providers for high-speed modem service over their systems, a federal court has ordered.

In an opinion issued last week, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Calif., held that the FCC was wrong when it classified high-speed Internet over cable as just an “information service,” a position that effectively locked out competing Internet service providers on cable systems.

Under the court’s order, cable-based broadband is a “telecommunications service,” making it subject to the same rules that the phone companies must adhere to, which includes access to competitive providers.

“Giving consumers a choice of Internet service providers would open the door to more competition, and let people choose services with better privacy and less spam,” said Chris Murray, legislative counsel for the Consumers Union.

The FCC voted in March 2002 to exempt cable companies from laws that force phone companies to open their lines to competition. The move was necessary, said proponents, to spur more investment in high-speed Internet services. FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the FCC would appeal.

Cable’s control over its systems hurt independent Internet providers, who saw subscribers abandon dial-up services for much faster broadband connections. EarthLink, among the ISP petitioners to the court, praised the decision. “Cable modem users deserve choice in high-speed Internet providers,” said Dave Baker, EarthLink’s vice president of law and public policy.

Consumer groups said the court ruling would help protect users of cable modem technology. “Under the FCC’s decision, citizens using the Internet over cable were not protected from content discrimination and they do not benefit from competition among many ISPs,” said Cheryl Leanza, spokeswoman for the Media Access Project. “Now there is a chance that citizens will be protected.”

For more information visit www.fcc.gov.

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