Fla. County Gives Up Access Fight


Instead of going to federal appeals court Wednesday in Atlanta, Broward
County, Fla., surrendered in its open-access battle with AT&T Broadband and
Comcast Corp.

The county's Board of Commissioners approved a settlement with the cable
operators on the issue April 10, and attorneys are drafting a repealing
ordinance now, assistant county attorney Anitra Lanczi said. That ordinance will
be subject to a public hearing and vote in May, she added.

The county initially intended to appeal the ruling of Judge Donald
Middlebrooks of U.S. District Court for South Florida. He ruled in November that
the county's July 1999 open-access ordinance abused the operators' First
Amendment rights.

'Attorneys felt that our position was strong, but appeals are time-consuming
and distracting,' Lanczi explained. Further, the litigants never know how a
challenge on this issue will turn out, she added.

Indeed, regulators so far have lost the three court challenges to open
access, but all for different reasons.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the case of Portland, Ore., versus
AT&T Corp., called Internet service a telecommunications product and ruled
that regulators have no authority.

In an appeal still pending before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals judging
the legality of an open-access ordinance in Henrico County, Va., the lower court
called Internet a cable service. Open access violates federal telecommunications
law, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Williams said there.

Middlebrooks, in the Broward case, was the only jurist to accept cable's
constitutional arguments against open access.