Broadband Monopolies to Continue With Order

Rhett Pardon
SAN FRANCISCO – A federal appeals court decision that could have forced cable companies to offer customers a choice of high-speed Internet service providers was suspended Friday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it would grant petitions from the Federal Communications Commission and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association for a stay pending consideration of the case by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Friday’s motion means, for now, that cable providers will continue to have local monopolies over broadband Internet access.

The San Francisco-based court last week refused to rehear a key decision by a three-judge panel that said cable modem service should be classified as a telecommunications service, which is subject to strict regulatory regimes, rather than the unregulated "information service" definition adopted by the FCC.

And that triggered industry officials last week to say the ruling could ultimately trigger the same kind of consumer pricing that exists with slower dial-up service.

More than 7.4 million customers signed up last year for broadband services, bringing the total subscribers to nearly 25 million, according to market tracker Leichtman Research Group of Durham, N.H.

The history of the case dates back to a ruling by the 9th Circuit in 2000, upholding a U.S. District Court ruling out of Portland, Ore., that cable modem service is a telecom service required to give non-affiliated ISPs access to its network.

The case is Brand X Internet Services, et al. vs. FCC, No. 02-70518 (consolidated cases).