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Cable Internet Service Not Common Carrier 304

Posted by Hemos
from the the-battle-wages-on dept.
l2718 writes "The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed with the Federal Communications Commission that cable Internet service is an 'information service' rather than a 'telecommunication service.' This means that cable companies don't have to make their infrastructure open for competing ISPs to use. This is in distinction to the case of telephone companies and long-distance service, for example. For more information try the Center for Digital Democracy or read the Telecommunications Act."
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Cable Internet Service Not Common Carrier

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    • It's really a pity they ruled that way... going to give the cable companies an unfair advantage in the long run. :/
      • "Fair" is not outcome-based; "fair" is an equal application of a known set of rules. Cable infrastructure has never been regulated in the same manner as telephone infrastructure. This ruling continues that seperation of regulation, despite the growing overlap in functional use.
        • by Bob_Robertson (454888) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:21PM (#12922817) Homepage
          Both cable and telephone systems have enjoyed a merchantilist "mandated monopoly" status in most of the country. The same reasonings were made in both cases, that market competition would make profit margins so low that service would not be rolled out for marginal customers. Same for "rural electrification" and lots of other services. Profits were, and are, legally mandated to occur regardless of the desirability of the services offered.

          The ruling is a contradiction, because the cable companies continue to enjoy legal monopoly status. Their only competition in the wired IP field is in fact the phone companies, with VoIP and DSL bringing the two systems closer together in functionality every day.

          Don't get me wrong, I utterly oppose anyone mandating that I provide my infrastructure to other people whether I like it or not. What I loath is the hypocrisy involved.

          Now we have another judicial fiat defining differences in how they are allowed and/or required to do their business. Instead of competition driving prices down and service quality up, the companies are being limited to someone else's ideas of what they should be.

          You're right that the two systems have never been regulated exactly the same. The problem is that they are regulated. As with every merchantilist scheme, we the customers are the losers.

          Bob-

      • Not when you consider they no longer have common carrier protection when it comes to things like illegal content flying around on their network. Now they have to spend the money and blood actually trying to stop that. And if the measures against it get too obtrusive, they will loose customers.

        ** Did not read the ruling... assuming the protections went away with the status
    • Scalia gets it right (Score:5, Informative)

      by l2718 (514756) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:56AM (#12921793)

      Take care to read Justice Scalia's Dissent. In it, he shows a good understanding of how internet service works and what this means legally.

      His point is that the cable companies are prodviding two services:

      1. communications from your home to their ISP facility.
      2. their ISP facility connects you to the rest of the Internet.
      The second is an "information service" under the law. The first is a "telecommunication service". The cable company is bundling them together exactly to get around the regulations by claiming that the joint offering is an "information service", but they shouldn't be allowed to play such shenannigans.
      • by jd (1658) <imipak@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Monday June 27, 2005 @02:03PM (#12923325) Homepage Journal
        I'm impressed - I don't usually regard him as having much in the way of understanding, but he seems to actually have a good grasp of technology here.


        Actually, the companies involved are likely to start screaming for a reversal soon. Think for a moment - the main reason they've been able to avoid massive penalties for not monitoring everyone and for allowing illegal content is because they've claimed "common carrier" status.


        They have now had that status well and truly removed, which means they are now potentially liable for ALL such content that they carry.


        In the end, they have a choice - keep the legal protection, but lose the monopoly on the wires, or keep the monopoly but lose the protections. The former might cost them some profit, but the latter will (sooner or later) cost them their independence and maybe their existance. not much of a swap, if you ask me.

  • by Crudely_Indecent (739699) * on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:01AM (#12921136) Journal
    Cable providers also sell digital phone services over the same cable. Why then is this not a 'telecommunication service?' Phone companies investigated providing television style programming over the phone lines but the service proved too slow to carry the programming (DSL was born.)

    Personally, I say hooray for the cable companies. They get to keep control of their equipment and the users who are utilizing it. Broadband and dial-up wholesale outfits generally provide poor service and limited capability (no Static IP or PPP Multilink.) Some of the outfits that have recently come (and gone) in this area went so far as to charge for tech support ($2/minute.) How tempting do you think it is for them to 'generate revenue' by causing issues on their own network.

    "Numbers are down this month Bob, run that script that resets random passwords again."
    • " Cable providers also sell digital phone services over the same cable. Why then is this not a 'telecommunication service?'"

      maybe because that is not their primary function?
      • Maybe the rest of the cable services are not "telecommunication services", but the phone service still is. And, just like the telcos, their wires that deliver the TC service are common carriers. And, just like the telcos, whose wires are used to carry more than phone calls (modems, Internet traffic, TV), those wires are not excluded from common carrier provision just because they carry non TC services.
    • by IAmTheDave (746256) <basenamedave-sd.yahoo@com> on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:05AM (#12921185) Homepage Journal
      Besides the parent's thoughts, let's not forget that this supports the idea that VOIP is in fact not V. That is, with this ruling, anything that travels over broadband is information and not telecommunications, so it supports keeping federal regulations of VOIP off of VOIP providers.
      • That is, with this ruling, anything that travels over broadband is information and not telecommunications, so it supports keeping federal regulations of VOIP off of VOIP providers.

        Pesky regulations such as that dialling 911 works.

        • Pesky regulations such as that dialling 911 works.

          There is nothing wrong with the government having certain, life-saving regulations on VOIP. The point was that many of the FCC regulations on telecommunications are archaic, outdated, and just plain bad. Creating a subset of these for VOIP is not necessarily a bad thing, but lumping VOIP in as a telecommunications network from the jump is.
    • by l2718 (514756) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:12AM (#12921278)
      Cable providers also sell digital phone services over the same cable. Why then is this not a 'telecommunication service?'

      In fact, there have been recent court rulings that internet telephony is a telecommunicaiton device, and subject to FCC regulation. For example, this has been used to force VoIP to include 911 service. However, just because the VoIP part is a regulated service doesn't mean that the underlying infrastrcture is -- that depends on the definitions in the telecommuncations act, which the FCC is in charge of interpreting. The supreme court decided that their interpretation is not unreasonable and therefore due deference from the judicial branch.

    • Personally, I say hooray for the cable companies. They get to keep control of their equipment and the users who are utilizing it. Broadband and dial-up wholesale outfits generally provide poor service and limited capability (no Static IP or PPP Multilink.)

      I'm glad you think so highly of the cable companies internet services, because you can expect them to get worse due to this ruling. Before, they had to compete with those independant ISPs, now they don't because they can just shut them down. Do you thi

      • by pete6677 (681676) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:25AM (#12921422)
        This ruling doesn't change anything. It states that cable companies don't have to open their lines to competitors, which is the way things are right now. Service won't get worse because of this ruling, and I really don't think it would get better had they ruled the other way. Look at how well "competitive" DSL worked, or more like didn't work. Hardly anyone can sell DSL other than the local telecom monopoly since they have priced competitors out of the market even if they do allow access to their lines. The only way broadband will be truly competitive is when wireless broadband over a large area is widely available and affordable, and not surprisingly the phone and cable companies are trying very hard to prevent this.
    • That just points out the stupidity (yes, stupidity!) of trying to define a complex environment in simple terms. Just as the cable companies can now provide telephone service, the phone companies are now starting to provide video services with the fiber-to-the-door backbone now being brought online.
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:01AM (#12921139)
    The real problem here, and why the court was wrong, is that the cable system is a monopoly granted by the city. Only they are allowed to run cable to your home. As such, there is no true competition -- and we are screwed by it!
    • I don't think the court was wrong. I think this is a different problem. As a granted monopoly, the cities should have insisted several requirements were met, including allowing other services to lease bandwidth.
      • As a granted monopoly, the cities should have insisted several requirements were met, including allowing other services to lease bandwidth.

        Which the cable companies would have then ignored, or had overturned at the federal level claiming that the FCC does not require this of them and federal law/policy trumps any city.

    • by jratcliffe (208809) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:09AM (#12921234)
      Except for a VERY small number of cases (mostly subdivisions), cable is _not_ a monopoly by law. For the vast majority of local cable franchises, the franchise agreement is explicitly NOT exclusive - other providers are welcome to build networks and offer service. The problem is, nobody wants to. The economics of the cable business are such that, one provider will make good money - add a second provider, and both lose money. You need at least 40+% penetration of homes to justify the costs of building the network, and a secondary provider is highly unlikely to capture that many customers.
      • Mod this up. There can be competing cable companies, they are know in the industry as overbuilders. The reason you don't usually see this is it's typically unprofitable in most areas.
      • Imagine if the big phone companies were the only ISPs allowed on copper. That's exactly what's happenening here, except it's only the big cable companies who are allowed to be ISPs on coax. It is only bad news for the consumer.
        • If it's so much more profitable for cable companies to lock themselves into the ISP role for their networks, I wonder why Time-Warner allows Earthlink as an ISP on their network here in San Diego along with their own offering of Road Runner? Earthlink is even cheaper.
      • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:21AM (#12921365) Journal

        In that case, Cable provision is a natural monopoly and there is nothing to be gained by having it run by a private company (the theory of capitalism being based on competition), so it should be taken under public ownership.

        Competing companies can sell services on the infrastructure if they like, but not access itself.

        This would also lower the barrier of entry right down to the little local companies.
    • by WebHostingGuy (825421) * on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:19AM (#12921350) Homepage Journal
      There might not be competition right now, however, in the next few years there will be. Satellite TV is already a direct competitor to TV for cable companies. And broadband access is in the same market as DSL right now. And when FIOS gets going it will be a direct competitor of both TV and broadband potentially offering more than cable could. I would not say life is all rosy at the cable companies.
  • by willith (218835) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:01AM (#12921144) Homepage
    I use Earthlink as my ISP, but the lines and equipment all come from Time Warner--even my bill is printed on Time Warner paper and I make my cheque out to "Time Warner". The only difference is that Earthlink's service costs $10 less per month.

    Does this mean my option to use anyone but Time Warner as a cable ISP will vanish?
  • by judmarc (649183) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:02AM (#12921159)
    ...it forces the telcos (Baby Bells, etc.) to come out with competitive broadband offerings to more areas more quickly.
    • I agree... though I don't know how it will really change anything.

      Comcast has a virtual monopoly on broadband access in my area. I'm too far from the CO to get DSL and satellite is out of the question, so Comcast can pretty much charge whatever they want and anyone who wants broadband will pay it. I don't think Comcast leased their cable in the first place, at least not in my area. I looked into Earthlink broadband but it's not available in my area.

      I'm paying a lot for cable internet service. $59.99 a

    • I disagree. Areas with high population densities (urban, etc) will now get duplicative BroadBand infrastructure. Goodie for them. Areas which are underserved (rural, no broadband, no cable) will see less capital investment, because all the capital is going into the slugfest in the high population density areas (gotta make that quick buck !). Had the court ruled that cable/broadband was an essential service (and it should be getting close to that), then the state PSCs could legitimately lean on the ILECs (an
  • E911 impact (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stecoop (759508) * on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:03AM (#12921167) Journal
    Since cable internet isn't a telecommunication service then I bet that the Voice over IP providers will favor cable. The E911 is mandated for voice lines and there have been a few state cases where internet phone providers have been sued. This ruling then (should in theory) alleviates the necessity of E911 for cable internet and lets the market decide if E911 is worth the cost. I just wonder if VOIP becomes widely used then will Cable Internet become re-classified as phone service?
    • We just launched telephony here and we fully support E911.
    • Nope, isn't going to work that way.

      VOIP is VOIP and the regulations still apply. Changing from one type of wire to another to transport your packets doesn't relieve you from following the rules.
  • by AngelfMercy (694727) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:03AM (#12921169) Homepage
    Ah yes, the Center for Digital Deomcracy. . .
    fine work they do, daily fighting the spread of Omcracy that has taken so many young lives and minds.
  • Aren't phone companies also information carriers?
    • Sure.

      But that is not their primary function.
    • The terms "information device" and "telecommunication device" have a strict, legal, meaning in this context -- they are defined in the Telecommunications Act (see link in the story heading). They don't necessarily mean what everyday language says they do.
  • IP Telephony... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FosterSJC (466265) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:05AM (#12921191)
    I can see the case now for declaring cable internet lines to be informational services. But what about in 5-10 years when a substantial, if not majority, portion of telecommunication will occur over these cable lines? Can their purpose be reclassified? And not only will cable internet lines be home to VoIP and Internet... TV and movies on demand will also move to the internet domain. I'm not sure how long this decision will remain accurate.
  • This is inconsistent. With two-way cable and VOIP,

    By this same logic, your telephone company should be able to only let you dial into their own ISP -- and at whatever prices they decide to charge.

    And regarding the court's other goof last week, if why not Free Speech also being regulated at the local level. If your local municipality doesn't like your speech, let them use eminent domain powers to take it away from you. Wouldn't that go over well?

    Of course, since many of us have our Free Speech thr

  • by idontgno (624372) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:08AM (#12921228) Journal
    They're not a common carrier for purposes of access to underlying infrastructure, but at the same time they ARE a common carrier for purposes of content liability?

    Is it unreasonable for me to be confused? Is a little consistency too much to ask here?

  • Aren't there a bunch of other privacy related issues with them being non-common-carriers/
  • by papasui (567265) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:11AM (#12921261) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I'm a network engineer for a major cable company.
    Everyone overlooks the major difference between phone and cable when saying cable should be opened up. That is (I'll prefix this with IN GENERAL, since there may be exceptions to this) cable systems were privately funded while phone systems used tax payer money. A second difference, although it will become less of one as cable telephony becomes more common is that phone is an utility service while cable is entertainment.
    • Cable -used- to be an entertainment service. But you'll never get me to say that internet access is anything but a utility.
    • phone systems used tax payer money

      Disclaimer, I'm not a network engineer for a major cable company, phone company, or other for-profit infrastructure provider. Just a lifelong customer.

      Last time I looked at phone infrastructure laying around, it was labeled "QWest", or "Northwestern Bell" if it's old enough. I realize there are subsidies, but still, I had the distinct impression that most telephone infrastructure was originally built up at telco expense.

      Correct me if I'm wrong. (Hell, this is Slashdot; s

    • This is something I wish more people would understand. The difference between a necessary utility and an entertainment service. Having a telephone is as much a safety device as a communications service. If you don't have a phone you could end up in a world of trouble. If you don't have cable, you're just really bored on a Saturday night.

      And you're right, the establishemnt of the basic infrastructure with telephones was a partially public funded endeavour. They also got a government sanctioned monopoly
      • Houston, we have a problem.

        My cable company is my telephone company. Not VOIP, real honest-to-God landline, complete with real 911 and real phone number and everything. The household telephone wiring (2 jacks in every room!) concentrates into a little box that ties into the cableco's RG-59 run under the yard. Not twisted pair to a QWest 50-pair box in the middle of the block.

        So, are they still a luxury entertainment service? I don't think so, unless calling the fire department is an entertaining luxury.

        Th

        • Good point. The problem seems to be that most people do not grasp the idea that data is data is data.
          In the near future the idea of a separate phone line, cable TV connection, and alarm connection will be considered quaint right along with party lines.

    • Bullshit. The cable in my area (nominally Adelphia) was also taxpayer funded via a series of bond issues which were backed by local governments. Roughly 80% of the TV programming after 11 PM is paid programming, which we were told (as a community) might disappear for the then-small cost of a subscriber fee. Frankly I don't buy the BS anymore. That said, I don't see much difference between this and the breakup of Ma Bell.
    • AFAIK phone systems were not built using taxpayer money.

      I also see this ruling differently. Both as limiting and levelling the playing field. There is effectively no requirement the RBC telcos share DSL with CLECs. I looked into it, and what requirement there is is priced exorbitantly in many states. De facto, none. So why impose one on cable when it will be bypassed similarly?

  • by wsanders (114993) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:11AM (#12921270) Homepage
    For all telco law experts out there, what would it take for the telcos to refute their "common carrier" status? And lose/gain the same legal standing as the cable companies? Voice==data and data==voice so it seems like it owuld be an even playing field.
    • For all telco law experts out there, what would it take for the telcos to refute their "common carrier" status?

      Where I live they do it through being very slow and unresponsive for opening up ports to other carriers (or any other cooperation that is necessary to comply with the law). Most people like me will refuse to go too many months without phone service, and then just go back to the monopolistic one.

      Been there, done that.

      Why is it a worldwide conspiracy against people having a decently affordable m
  • by DanielMarkham (765899) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:12AM (#12921273) Homepage
    There's a difference between a "communications service" and a "data service"?
    But wouldn't you have to communicate data in order for it to appear? And wouldn't communications be meaningless without data to communicate?
    Sometimes I wonder if it's the court that doesn't understand technology, or maybe its us technology guys that don't understand the courts. This ruling doesn't make any sense to me.
    • by srmalloy (263556) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:44PM (#12922392) Homepage
      Sometimes I wonder if it's the court that doesn't understand technology, or maybe its us technology guys that don't understand the courts. This ruling doesn't make any sense to me.

      Well, given the two court cases wherein in one trial President Harding's Secretary of the Interior, a Mr. Fall, was convicted of receiving a bribe from a financier named Doheny, who was acquitted in the other trial of paying the bribe to Fall, I'm not sure that 'sense' has any meaning when it comes to court judgements.

  • Cable companies don't have to open their infrastructure to competitors? Great, so my local government is going to let me run my own cable lines to every house in the city, right? If the one cable company's lines aren't open to the public, then the ground around them must be now.

    I actually kind of like that idea.

    • In most cities you can compete. Granted you will probably need to make the city believe you know what your doing and have a solid business plan for them to sign a franchise agreement with you. The reason you don't see this very often is that it's unprofitable in most areas.
      • Comcast and RCN compete in Metro Boston. RCN has faster internet available; But Comcast has signed some exclusive HD channel agreements so RCN's HD isn't as prevalent as Comcast's.

        It seems to work fine, I had RCN in Arlington and now I have Comcast in Somerville. Both provided excellent service and had decent prices.
  • A safe haven? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:14AM (#12921298)
    Does this mean that cable companies are now excluded from VoIP "tappability", the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), or from the other law enforcement attempts to log EVERYTHING on the internet(s)?
  • by jocknerd (29758) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:14AM (#12921299)
    At least in helping big business. Let's see first they make it easier for big business to steal your property. Now they make sure that cable remains a monopoly.

  • by Lunch2000 (701764) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:15AM (#12921319)
    Since they have been labeled an information service rather than a telecommunications service, it means they can filter your traffic. I know for a fact that Time Warner (my cable service provider) sells IP phone Vonage type service, but charge a minimum of 39.99 a month for it. How long until that is the only VOIP service they allow on their networks and providers like Vonage suddenly "don't work" and "aren't supported by our service" Lunch
  • The government is allowed to take your house on behalf of a big corporation. But a corporation can't be required to request its monopoly infrastructure -- ON WHICH THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT HAS GIVEN IT A MONOPOLY -- at a fair price. At least the Supreme Court is being consistent. Corporations are getting everything they want, and John Q. Citizen can just go hang. The article cited above says that the court ruled that "judges should defer to the expertise of the Federal Communications Commission." But the FCC
    • What a shortsighted comment... Seems you think there's a vast corporate conspiracy. Corporations get the power and individuals get nothing? So go incorporate yourself. Test your theory. It costs between $40 and $500 in most states... Not that big a deal.

      Then you'll find out that nothing has changed, and there's no pro-corporate attitude. It's the same as it's always was. People with money have power. Period.

      Lucky for you, unlike in a gulided age, nobody is stopping you from going out and working your ass
  • by denis-The-menace (471988) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:22AM (#12921383)
    How many times have the telcos been able to hide behind the "common carier" status when crimes are commited using their networks?

    Will Cable ISPs have to now police their networks or be responsible for acts by their users?

    Or maybe, just maybe, that's the idea and they are in cahoots with the media mafias?
  • by frankie (91710) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:23AM (#12921397) Journal
    Every time this sort of anti-competetive stuff occurs (99% of US cable markets are monopolies by license, aka local gov bribery), it makes me wonder if the various forms of wire infrastructure ought to be public property, just like the roads, water pipes, etc. Companies would be allowed to connect to them at cost. I can't help but think it would be win-win for everyone, except the monopoly owners and maybe Adam Smith purists.

    Hmm...considering last week's supreme court ruling, perhaps the gov should just TAKE all the wires away from the companies by eminent domain. Infrastructure is about the only thing I consider a valid "public use".
  • Ok. (Score:3, Informative)

    by papasui (567265) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:27AM (#12921437) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I'm a network engineer for a major cable company. I know this is /. but we can brings some facts to the table. Monopoly: Cable is not a monopoly, (there may be some notable exceptions) there are areas where cable companies compete with each other. BUT you typically don't see this because it's simply unprofitable for them to do so. I know everybody thinks they should have cheap/free high speed internet service, but ALWAYS remember that a business has one primary purpose, to make money. Building a cable network to support a single city requires MILLIONS of dollars. Building cable plant typically costs $7.00 per foot, this includes price for nodes, amps, cable, fiber, maintence, employees. Then you have your cost for content, headend equipment (upcoverters, CMTS, combiners, forward lasers, multiplexers, etc, etc, etc). You better have a very solid business plan and know what you're doing if you plant compete with an established company and convince a city to open the right of way to you.
  • by akad0nric0 (398141) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:28AM (#12921454)
    At least, for consumers in metropolitan areas. This is a big deal now, but as ISP's begin offering wireless access in metropolitan areas, there won't be a monopoly-controlled medium like the cable or telecomm infrastructure to wrestle over. Verizon is already doing this over their cellular network. It's not exactly the same, but it marks a move in that direction, IMO.
    • WISPs have yet to establish a business model that can be shown to be profitable, especially in metro areas.

      Cellular companies, who have billions of dollars invested in existing infrastructure, are already having a hard enough time making data services pay for themselves. Mostly, data service exists on cellular because it's "easy to do", and at the rates most cellular companies charge (by the Kb), a profit center.

      However, WISPs as a general rule don't have the benefit of having their data service ride on
  • by Gadzinka (256729) <rrw@hell.pl> on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:28AM (#12921457) Journal
    Does this ruling mean that there's nothing to prevent them from blocking access to VoIP services competing with their overpriced PSTN-over-cable offerings?

    Robert
  • Common Carrier? (Score:3, Informative)

    by windex (92715) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:30AM (#12921489) Homepage
    Not common carrier, eh?

    Well, here's the problem with this. Common carrier laws apply to telecommunications services. If Cable is not a telecommunications service, it's not a common carrier.

    I strongly suggest someone sue charter, time warner, etc, for damages over the emotional trama the 'degrading' porn email they receive brings them. After all, that's why common carrier laws exist...
    • This is exactly what I was thinking. I have always been under the impression that common carrier status is a good thing. I guess the cable companies are going to have to raise rates or something, to leverage their monopoly status to offset the increased liability from not being able to shield themselves with common carrier status.
  • Liability. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AJWM (19027) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:34AM (#12921538) Homepage
    The cable co's may come to regret this.

    I think (IANAL) this could render them liable for any "information" provided from their "service" -- from copyright violations to kiddy porn to libel. It's "common carrier" status that protects the phone company and other ISPs from this liability.
  • The mutually exclusive definitions of "telecommunications" vs "info" services in the law the Court interpreted is a bad model of the technology. Unfortunately, Congress and the Court is collectively so ignorant of technology, and immune to the damage their reality-disconnected decisions make, that they won't face that reality. And of course that guy in the White House [salon.com] doesn't know anything about anything at all, except that he's popular - why should he do anything about it, when he has no problem with his p
  • Good Ruling (Score:3, Interesting)

    by chill (34294) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:46AM (#12921663) Journal
    I think this is a good idea. Cable companies are not like phone companies (aka DSL providers) in the U.S. The telephone companies were government imposed monopolies. They built their networks under the premise that they would have exclusive service rights for a long time. Because entry costs are so much higher than maintenance costs, they have little to fear from traditional startups since no one will waste the startup capital on laying phone lines.

    Cable companies, on the other hand, built their networks in a competitive environment. Yes, there are things like local franchise agreements but the ones I've seen (Florida, mostly) aren't prohibitively expensive or exclusive. I have seen a lot of little, local cable providers that service just a subdivision or a few blocks.

    The cable companies didn't have government imposed monopolies to assist them in getting going. If you don't like your options in cable, you can either get a satellite or start your own [pbs.org] micro-cable company.

    Since the biggest cost in delivering cable television and telephone services is the "last mile" -- running & servicing the cables -- this could provide a major boost to the wireless entrepeneur or small business. If the cable companies start jacking up internet access prices, a demand will be created for an alternative. Where a demand exists, a supply will be found.
  • How will this ruling bear upon Verizon's expanding fiber-optic network? Will another case have to go all the way to the Supreme Court, or will Fios be designated as an "information service" or a "telecommuncation service?"
  • by Calimar (895430) on Monday June 27, 2005 @11:50AM (#12921714) Homepage
    Great! Now that Cable is officially an "information service" (today's ruling) and Internet is an "information service"(FCC 96-488). Then previous rulings regarding ISPs accessing channels via leased access should be overturned.

    I quote from the FCC website http://www.fcc.gov/mb/facts/csgen.html [fcc.gov]:

    "Channel set-aside requirements were established in proportion to a system's total activated channel capacity, in order to 'assure that the widest possible diversity of information sources are made available to the public from cable systems in a manner consistent with the growth and development of cable systems.'"

    A company called IVI tried this before around the same time. It fell on the FCC's ears with a resounding thud. One comment I remember is that they did not, at the time, consider the Internet an information service.

    Cable companies are tiny municipal monopolies. The FCC has found in the past that they try to lock out competition so they established the framework required promote that competition. Why don't they use it?
  • by FellowConspirator (882908) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:26PM (#12922156)
    This is one of those rulings that will have a number of unintended consequences. There are some practical ramifications of not being common carrier (mostly, it will ultimately mean a lower grade of service and high consumer costs for cable service), but the court didn't end there.

    Their conclusion was that cable internet and phone service wasn't a telecommunication service under the law. Economic issues aside, this is interesting from the standpoint of taxation (the argument that a web-based site is a mail-order busines by virtue of conducting business over the phone and thus subject to state sales tax, for instance). How about E991 -- it no longer applies to cable companies because their service is not phone service or even telecommunication service. Cable companies wouldn't need to feign neutrality on site access either -- preferred content providers get bandwidth, where others get none, etc.

    In the short term, I'm sure this is considered a win for the cable companies, but I suspect in the end it will sink them.
  • VOIP port blocking (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rlds (849683) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:01PM (#12922620)
    Since cable companies are not to be considered common carriers for their internet access services, they could now proceed to block ports used for VOIP by other providers. That is, if you want VOIP, you can only get it from the cable company. The reason I say that is that in previous cases of port blocking the FCC have used the common carrier provisions to get some ISPs (that happen to be part of traditional common carriers like telcos) make them desist of their port blocking practices.

    New laws are needed to bring some sanity to this.
  • by DunbarTheInept (764) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:33PM (#12922976) Homepage
    One possible outcome of this is that it means the rule that your ISP is not resposible for filtering content might not apply to cablemodem service anymore.

    One consequence of being a "common carrier" is that the common carrier company is not legally responsible for having to know what kind of content they are sending around. If someone uses their service to speak a slanderous comment, the communication provider can't be held legally responsible for spreading that slander. If someone uses a telephone to make a prank call, you can't sue the phone company for the offensiveness of that call. These are all consequences of being called a common carrier. The definition includes an absolution of all blame for the content being carried - the blame lays only with the people at the ends of the connection, not the people carrying the connection.

    Now, if that goes away for cable ISPs, that could mean they have to start censoring to cover their own ass, legally.

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