Supreme Court to Hear Case on Cable’s Regulatory Duties
The case revolves around a ruling issued in 2002 by the Federal Communications Commission that the service provided by cable companies should be defined as an “information service,” and not a “telecommunications service,” which is the designation given to traditional telephone companies.
Companies with the “information service” designation do not have to comply with regulations requiring them to lease lines to competitors, or meet certain service standards and state public utility requirements.
In October 2003, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, responding to a lawsuit filed by an Internet service provider called Brand X, rejected that F.C.C. interpretation. The court, in upholding a lower court decision, found that cable providers cannot be relieved entirely of obligations placed on telecommunications services.
The cable industry and the Bush administration are appealing that decision. The case is at the heart of an evolving regulatory environment in which telecommunications providers, including traditional telephone and cable companies, are seeking greater freedom from government oversight.
See also Infoworld’s Supreme Court to hear cable modem case
U.S. broadband customers would have more choices of providers, and the new competition could drive down prices if the Supreme Court rejects a U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attempt to classify cable modem service as an unregulated information service, say the ISPs pushing for cable-sharing rules.
Supporters of the FCC action say broadband adoption in the U.S., hailed by President George Bush and other politicians as an engine of economic growth, would slow if cable providers were forced to share their networks with competing ISPs. Cable providers would have less incentive to improve connection speeds and otherwise upgrade their networks if they have to sell their networks at wholesale prices to competitors, said Dan Brenner, senior vice president for law and regulatory policy at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA).
[...] The Brand X case … is nothing less than a battle for the soul of the Internet,” Jeff Chester, the Center for Digital Democracy’s executive director, said in December. “While the cable industry is intent on transforming the Internet into an extension of its tightly controlled cable business, it is critical that we maintain an open, nondiscriminatory platform for the exchange of ideas and information.”