Cable broadband an Information Service?

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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Cable broadband an Information Service?

I've discussed the FCC's ruling on "naked DSL" a couple of times recently. The FCC essentially has removed state restrictions forcing DSL providers to offer "naked" DSL and taken jurisdiction upon itself. Naked DSL basically is unbundling phone service from DSL broadband service. So with the FCC's recent ruling, if you want to get DSL you have to purchase phone service - even if you plan to use Vonage or another VoIP service provider over the DSL connection - no if's and's or but's about it!

On a related note, the cable companies are trying to be classified as an "information service" and not a "telecommunications service" so they are not bound by the telecom rules which require them to lease their cable lines to competitors so they can offer cable broadband. In fact, today the Supreme Court will hear the Federal Communications Commission's appeal of a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as to whether cable modems are a "telecommunications service" or an "information service."

In 2002, the FCC issued a "declaration" that cable modem service should be considered an information service, which gave the "big boys" of cable (Comcast, CableVision, Time Warner, etc.) carte' blanche power when it came to controlling their cable networks. The appeals court ruled later in 2003 that cable modems are akin to telecommunications providers, which meant that they would have to open their lines to rival Internet service providers. The FCC disagreed and claims they have more "expertise" in this area and have taken the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Independent ISPs who brought this suit and consumer groups argue that the appeals court's interpretation would allow more choice, more competition, and hence lower prices in the broadband market, as has happened in the traditional dial-up ISP market. But in their appeal to the Supreme Court, the FCC says it is falls under their jurisdiction. Hey, at least the FCC has been consistent - granting monopoly power to the DSL providers by not enforcing the unbundling of DSL from phone service and now letting the cable companies own their networks lock-stock-and-barrell.

The FCC has been reversed by appeals courts on important issues several times. Part of the problem is that the Telecommunications Act and other statutes the FCC presides over are ambiguous and open to interpretation - which the courts say falls under their jurisdiction.

If the cable companies simply offered high-speed Internet access and cable TV, then I would agree with the cable companies that they are merely an "information service". But when the cable companies start offering voice, why should the FCC grant them special "favor" and not be governed by the same rules as other voice providers, in particular the traditional phone companies? After all, the phone companies are "forced" to lease their lines to competing voice providers

From a very basic standpoint, at the physical layer to the home, the cable companies are the same thing as phone companies - it's just a piece of copper. The only difference is one is twisted pair of copper and one is a single coax copper wire. Phone companies currently have to lease that copper to competitors and the cable companies don't. If the FCC wins its appeal, the FCC is essentially taking all the phone providers and tying one hand behind their backs while letting the cable companies use both hands and come out swinging to beat the hell out of the phone companies. Eventually, the cable companies will steal even more of the phone companies' market share and in 5-10 years we will be talking about "splitting up the Ma Cable Companies".

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