RealTime IT News

U.S. Court Sides with AT&T

Champaign bottles might be popping throughout AT&T Corp. headquarters as the much awaited ruling on a highly-anticipated open access cable case was handed down late Thursday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of a lower court, stating that the city of Portland, Ore., had overstepped its authority and could not require AT&T to open its high-speed cable network to competing Internet services.

The three-judge panel unanimously decided that the 1996 Telecommunications ACT prohibits a local franchising authority from regulating cable Internet access since the regulation of telecommunications services is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, not local municipalities.

Jim Cicconi, AT&T general counsel, said the firm was pleased with the ruling because it clarifies the limits of local authority when it comes to the provision of high-speed Internet access over cable.

"Now that the court has made clear Congress' intent to bar ordinances like the one enacted by Portland, AT&T and other cable companies will be able to get on with investments that will bring advanced services to millions of Americans," Cicconi said. "In particular, AT&T looks forward to bringing our high-speed service to the people of Portland as soon as possible."

Cable Broadband service provider Excite@Home and AT&T partner, also applauded the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

The firm released a statement on the decision that noted similar decisions in state courts and legislatures have rejected calls for regulation of cable access, " hopefully this will end the forced access debate."

While AT&T was quick to champion the ruling, but "open access" proponents say that the top U.S. cable and telecom company's celebration may be short-lived, due to the language the 9th Circuit Court used in stating its decision.

"We hold that subsection 541(b)(3) prohibits a franchising authority from regulating broadband Internet access because the transmission of Internet service to subscribers over cable broadband facilities is a telecommunications service under the Communications Act," the court ruled.

Because the court labeled cable broadband access akin to digital subscriber line service, "open access" proponents are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to enforce the same laws that apply to digital subscriber line sharing, to broadband cable networks.

Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten said the municipality would carefully review the ruling before it would file for an appeal the court's decision.

"We may have lost the battle but, may have won the war," Sten said. "The City must fully consider the implications of the court's ruling before we appeal the decision."

Initially, the decision marks a defeat for Internet service providers like GTE Corp. , and others, which argued that AT&T must give rivals access to its high-speed connections just as local telephone companies must open their telephone networks to competitors.

Greg Simon, OpenNet Coalition co-founder said in order for AT&T to benefit from the decision, it must prove to the FCC that there is competition in the cable access market.

"The court ruled that cable broadband similar to DSL access," Simon said. "If they FCC has to forbear for one broadband service, then they have to forbear for both, and enforce open access as the law of the land for high-speed communication in the U.S."

Rich Bond, OpenNet Coalition co-founder, added the FCC has the authority, but not the disposition to create a consistent open access system for all high-speed services in the nation.

"The FCC made sur