Cable Co versus ISPs, one more time


This battle is as old as broadband in the US. Cable companies want to shut out independent ISPs from their cable networks, for good. ISPs are not taking it sitting down. Back in March 2002, the FCC defined cable modem service as an “information” service and not a telecom service, which helped the cable companies escape the draconian rules that regulate the phone operators. This was one way from preventing ISPs any access to the cable networks. Anyway then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit overturned the FCC’s decision, and things got all crazy. Now this battle is going to heat up again. According to Wired News, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday is going to consider “whether the cable companies should be forced to give third-party ISPs access to their networks.”

This is a really weird case,” said Cynthia Brumfield, director of Pike & Fischer’s Communications Media Analysis Group. “I suspect the Supreme Court is taking this up because of the nature of how (the lower-court decision) was made. My guess is that the Supreme Court is looking at this from a broader perspective.”

This case is called Brand X Internet Services v. FCC. It actually gives cable cos a chance to shut out third-party ISPs from their networks. That is if they ruling goes in their favor. No wonder the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, is clapping with both hands.

So is Michael Powell, who seems to have different ideas about deregulation for everyone else (except the Bells.) “High-speed internet connections are not telephones, and I’m glad the Supreme Court has agreed to review the 9th Circuit’s ruling that they are,” 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.”



This all seems pretty silly — that is, not the prospect of cable companies obtaining the monopolistic ability to screw consumers, but the fact that it’s even a live issue. I suspect it’s because we don’t think about it correctly.

The single service at issue, broadband internet over cable lines, really amounts to two consumer products: 1) access to use the cable lines themselves, and 2) the information we’re presented with at the other end of the lines, i.e. the software gateway to the broader internet beyond. One is a physical product, the other is a service. Why should the cable co.s get to use their monopoly control over the product (which in itself I don’t object to, they laid its foundation) to ram the service down our throats? I’ll gladly pay Time Warner to use their lines, but I want to keep my Earthlink access, thankyouverymuch.

The simple and smart solution is to split the pricing to reflect these two different products, but who knows if we’ll see a simple, smart solution materialize. It’s probably marginally less desirable for some big company’s bottom line, which means they’ll fight tooth and nail against consumer on the issue.

Charlie Sierra


Wouldn’t you consider this cast to be a backdoor route for the RBOC’s to lock out 3rd parties.

I mean an ILEC and an MSO are both local regulated monopolies, and the issue here is one of equivalence.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think 3rd party access companies are going to suffer.

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