Broward May Settle, Not Appeal

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Although attorneys for Broward County, Fla., filed to appeal a judge's
decision striking down an open-access ordinance, the issue might not be
litigated further.

The county has not yet filed briefs on its December challenge before the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the 11th District. An attorney for the county
confirmed last week that local regulators are trying to negotiate a settlement
with local operators.

In 1999, Broward County commissioners joined other local regulators in
passing an ordinance compelling the operators -- Comcast Corp. and AT&T
Broadband -- to open their high-speed-data platforms to competitors.

Operators including Comcast, Advocate Communications (which does business in
the region as Advanced Communications) and AT&T Broadband predecessor
Tele-Communications Inc. challenged the ordinance last July in federal court in
Miami.

Initial rulings went against cable. Judge Middlebrooks dropped several
plaintiffs, stating that operators that had not launched cable-modem service
lacked standing. He also dismissed most of the seven counts.

But last November, the judge issued a 26-page opinion siding with cable on
First Amendment grounds.

He wrote that regulators had to show a 'compelling reason' for limiting
operators' First Amendment rights, and the access ordinance harmed incumbent
operators' ability to market and pay for their services.

Broward's strategy shift appears to reflect changes in the business climate
since Middlebrooks rendered his decision. Since then, Time Warner Inc. and
America Online Inc. accepted open-access conditions in order to close their
merger.

Larry Lymas-Johnson in the Broward County attorney's
office said talks aimed at a possible settlement are being held with the cable
plaintiffs.

AT&T Broadband spokesman Jim McGann confirmed that attorneys
for the operator are in negotiations with the Florida county but declined to
discuss the content of those talks.

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