FCC Defends Cable-Modem Ruling


Classifying cable-modem service as an information service was consistent with a key federal court ruling that shielded cable operators from local Internet-access mandates, the Federal Communications Commission said Monday in a court brief.

The FCC is defending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit a decision in March that classified cable-modem service as an information service, rather than a cable service or a telecommunications service.

Phone companies, Internet-service providers and local government are all challenging the ruling on various fronts.

ISPs such as EarthLink Inc. contended that the FCC's cable-modem classification clashed with the Ninth Circuit's June 2000 decision that labeled cable-modem service partly an information service and partly a telecommunications service.

EarthLink and other ISPs are hopeful that a telecommunications-service classification would ultimately force the FCC to require cable to open its data lines to competitors the way phone companies are currently forced to serve dial-up ISPs.

In an 65-page brief, the FCC argued that the Ninth Circuit's ruling two years ago -- in which Portland, Ore., was stopped from imposing ISP-access terms on AT&T Broadband -- did not bar the agency from selecting another classification contained in federal law. The Department of Justice joined the FCC in the brief.

In the Portland case, the FCC said, the dispute was a local one not involving FCC policies. As a result, the court needs to decide only whether the agency acted reasonably in classifying cable-modem service as an information service, the commission added.