Supreme Court petitioned on cable net access rule

The Bush administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a decision that requires cable companies to open their high-speed Internet networks to rival online providers.

The cable industry has been pushing for an appeal of a lower court’s decision, saying the ruling would dramatically reduce its incentive to continue investing in Internet services and expanding their reach.

In the past year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco has ruled twice that the FCC made a mistake when it allowed cable companies to bar rivals from their networks. However, those decisions have been put on hold while the Bush administration considered its options.

If the Supreme Court rejects the Justice Department’s appeal, cable companies would be required to share their lines with rivals, potentially creating more choice for consumers and a vast new market for independent Internet service providers.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm that represents a coalition of Internet providers, disputed the government’s claim that regulation would lead to higher rates or slow down the rollout of new services.

Schwartzman said that Time Warner Cable has continued to grow during the past three years despite an order by the Federal Trade Commission that it share its lines with rivals. The FTC imposed the requirement as part of its approval of the Time Warner and America Online merger in 2000.

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