RealTime IT News

Groups Praise Portland Decision

Consumer and Internet advocacy groups quickly lined-up to take a stand on the 9th Circuit Court decision handed down late Thursday.

Despite losing the fight to regulate AT&T Corp.'s cable network in Portland, Ore., city officials say their battle to open up competition among Internet service providers would persevere in the long run.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the @Home cable Internet service offered by AT&T is in essence a telecommunication service.

Open access proponents contend that the ruling means high-speed cable services are subject to Federal Communications Commission control, if regulations mandating forced access can not be established by municipalities that license local cable franchises.

Kerman Maddox, Open Access Alliance executive director, said AT&T and other cable companies should not be allowed to keep their monopoly over the high-speed cable lines and close out independent ISPs.

"The Court has said Internet access over cable should be treated like any other telecommunications service, subject to regulation by the FCC," Maddox said.

Mark Cooper, Consumer Federation of America director of research, said the court decision is a win for independent ISPs and all advocates of open access.

"Open access is the law of the land," Cooper said. "That is what we told the FCC almost two years ago and that is what the court found."

While AT&T is celebrating its court ordered ability to determine its cable access destiny in Portland, the openNET Coalition said the decision makes the open access movement a whole new ballgame.

Greg Simon, openNET Coalition co-director, said the Court has cast the open access debate in an entirely new light.

"The ruling clarifies that cable Internet services are subject to the same requirements as telephone companies," Simon said. "It will open the door for other Internet service providers to gain access to upgraded cable systems."

In early written arguments, lawyers for both AT&T and the City of Portland stipulated that Internet access over cable lines was strictly a cable service. However, in oral arguments before the court, several judges questioned why these services were not treated like telecom services, specifically digital subscriber line access.

With the 9th Circuit Court's ruling in place, openNET contends that the court has redefined how regulators and legislators should treat cable broadband Internet services.

Rich Bond, openNET Coalition co-director, said the court's decision now opens the door for the FCC to pen to a national open access policy.

"We believe that it is now time for policy makers to implement a policy that guarantees all Americans who want to use their cable company for high-speed Internet service have a choice of Internet service providers," Bond said. "The same rules by which local telephone companies provide high-speed Internet access to their customers will now apply to cable."

Jeffrey Chester, Center for Media Education executive director, said the decision really puts the ball back in the FCC's court.

"For two years now, FCC Chairman Kennard has been touting his go-slow, hands-off policy, assuming that the marketplace would solve the open-access puzzle," Chester said. "Instead, we've been treated to needless uncertainty, costly lawsuits, and the specter of closed cable systems that effectively wall off portions of the Internet for purely private exploitation."

"Now is the time for the FCC to take a strong strand in this matter," Chester added "It must preserve the