WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Friday it would
decide what regulations should apply to high-speed broadband Internet
service offered by cable companies like Time Warner Inc., a key case
that could decide whether such lines must be opened to competitors.
The Federal Communications Commission ruled in 2002 that cable
broadband was an information service and therefore free from most
regulations that apply to traditional telephone services, which
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned that
decision, relying on its previous ruling that broadband via cable
companies had a telecommunications component and should be subject to
The high court will likely hear arguments in March, with a decision
due by the end of June.
Broadband, also offered by telephone carriers, is catching on among
many U.S. consumers who want faster Internet service to, among other
things, play music and videos. About 30 million Americans subscribe to
the service, but the United States lags about a dozen countries in
President Bush pledged during is campaign that he would push for
universal access to broadband by 2007.
The FCC argued the appeals court incorrectly overrode the agency and
its expertise to oversee and regulate the telecommunications and media
industry. It has tried to limit regulations on the service as a way to
"High-speed Internet connections are not telephones," said FCC
Chairman Michael Powell. "The 9th Circuit's decision would have grave
consequences for the future and availability of high-speed Internet
connections in this country."
But independent Internet service providers and public interest groups
have worried that, without some safeguards by the FCC, consumers would
have limited choices for broadband service providers.
EarthLink Inc., the No. 4 U.S. Internet service provider and a
supporter of tougher cable rules, said that, despite the high court's
decision to hear the case, it anticipated the appeals court would not
"This will settle the matter once and for all and finally give cable
modem users a choice in high-speed Internet providers," said Dave
Baker, vice president for law and public policy at EarthLink. (With
additional reporting by Jim Vicini in Washington)
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