Supreme Court Takes Pole Case

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The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether the Federal Communications
Commission may set the rates cable operators pay to attach their wires to
telephone poles if operators also transmit Internet traffic to subscribers.

The case, FCC v. Gulf Power Co., will likely determine whether cable
operators have to pay much steeper pole fees -- a result that could increase the
retail price of high-speed Internet access paid by cable customers.

Although the court agreed to take the case, it won't hear oral arguments
until the fall and a ruling is unlikely until late this year or early next
year.

Along with the FCC, the National Cable Television Association sought Supreme
Court review, arguing that the decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the 11th Circuit would require cable operators to pay much higher
pole-attachment fees merely because their facilities are carrying Internet
traffic.

'We believe that the Supreme Court will find that the 11th Circuit decision
was contrary to the plain meaning of the pole-attachment statute and frustrates
one of the central purposes of the 1996 Telecommunications Act -- encouraging
deployment of Internet and other advanced services,' NCTA president Robert Sachs
said in a prepared statement.

In its decision, the 11th Circuit said the FCC had authority to set rates if
cable operators provide a cable service, such as video programming, but not if
they provide Internet access, even on a bundled basis with video programming.
The court said cable-provided Internet access was not a cable service protected
by FCC rate rules.

The lower court stayed the effect of its ruling pending Supreme Court
review.

Various utility companies urged the Supreme Court to let the lower-court
decision stand, arguing that the high court would be prematurely injecting
itself into the debate at the FCC on whether cable Internet access is a cable
service.

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