Telcos won't be sharing
Comcast, Qwest hail ruling as advance for broadband

By Jeff Smith, Rocky Mountain News
Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Comcast Corp. and Qwest Communications both embraced Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision that exempts cable companies from having to share their lines with rival Internet service providers.

But several consumer groups and ISPs such as EarthLink attacked the decision as a setback for consumers, saying it will lead to fewer choices and higher prices.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the Federal Communications Commission was within its right in 2002 to define cable-modem Internet service as an information service not subject to access requirements.

The decision reversed a lower, appellate court ruling.

Cindy Parsons, Comcast spokeswoman in Colorado, called the ruling a victory for consumers and said it maintains the momentum to advance broadband, or high-speed Internet, use in the U.S.

"Classifying cable-modem service as an interstate information service, as the FCC did, keeps this innovative service on the right deregulatory path," Parsons said.

Comcast provides cable service in the Denver area and is Colorado's largest cable provider.

But a number of consumer groups and ISPs criticized the high court's decision in the case of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association vs. Brand X Internet Services.

Mark Cooper, research director of the Consumer Federation of America, said the decision was a "grave error, both harming consumers and stifling entrepreneurial innovation."

ISPs without their own facilities or direct lines to homes and businesses must buy access from cable companies or telcos.

Many think Monday's ruling will limit their options or require them to pay prohibitively high prices for access.

"The court's ruling also threatens to cement the cozy duopoly of cable modem and DSL service that has made a mockery of competition in American broadband markets and prompted hundreds of communities across the country to build their own local networks," Cooper said.

Cooper contends the U.S. has slipped from third to 16th in the world in high-speed Internet adoption, in part because the FCC has refused to require cable operators to provide nondiscriminatory access to its networks.

While the decision didn't directly affect the Baby Bells, such as Qwest, which offer DSL Internet service over copper telephone lines, it was seen as helping their case as well.

That's because the FCC also has been moving toward eliminating rules that would force telcos to share their high-speed lines.  The FCC ruled in 2003 to phase out the sharing of some high-speed Internet lines.

"We are pleased that the high court has erased substantial uncertainty regarding broadband regulatory policy and found that the Federal Communications Commission has ample authority to adopt policies that support broadband deployment," Steve Davis, Qwest senior vice president of public policy, said in a statement.

"We trust that the FCC will now move forward with key initiatives that will apply these pro-consumer and pro-growth policies to all broadband technologies, not just cable."

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion on Monday's cable ruling and was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer. Dissenting were Antonin Scalia, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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