Hatfield Questions Cable-Internet Classification


Washington -- A former senior Federal Communications Commission official
expressed doubt Wednesday that the agency could lawfully avoid classifying
cable-provided Internet access as telecommunications.

Dale Hatfield, former chief of the FCC's Office of Engineering and
Technology, who left one year ago, said Internet traffic was telecommunications.
Telecommunications-service providers face open-access requirements unless waived
by the FCC.

'If they do classify [cable Internet] as information service . it's going to
take some very artful writing at this stage of the game,' he said. 'I don't see
how you move packets across the network without telecom occurring in some

Hatfield was a panelist at a broadband-policy conference here staged by
several organizations including Cahners Business Information, publisher of
Multichannel News.

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, telecommunications is the
transmission of content without any change in the content between the sender and
the recipient.

In his comments, Hatfield said cable-provided Internet service fit
comfortably within the legal definition of telecommunications.

Various sources, including cable attorneys in close contact with FCC
officials, believe the FCC is planning to classify cable Internet as an
unregulated information service rather than as a cable service or a
telecommunications service.

Although Hatfield said he had no inside knowledge on the FCC's
decision-making, the telecommunications component of cable Internet was

'It goes through the Internet unchanged. The packet I put in is the packet I
get out. Under the act, how that's not telecom, I just don't quite understand
how you get there,' he said.

Speculation that the FCC is going to label cable Internet as an information
service is growing.

Analysts at The Precursor Group issued a report Wednesday stating: 'Precursor
believes the FCC intends to classify broadband 'Net access as an unregulated
`information service,' applying to cable and digital-subscriber-line service
provided by phone companies.'

In an interview, Hatfield said defining cable Internet as an information
service 'defies common sense.' He added that the FCC could remain faithful to
the law by classifying cable Internet as a telecommunications service and then
waiving open-access requirements.On the same issue, Robert Pepper, chief of the
FCC's Office of Plans and Policy, declined to provide any clues about the
agency's direction on classification of cable Internet.

But he made it clear that the commission was not planning to require cable
operators to carry multiple Internet-service providers.

'I think we are going to see a market-driven evolution of multiple ISPs on
the cable platform, and it's not going to be under a regulated, open-access
regime,' Pepper said.