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Supreme Court rules on pole attachments

Tue, 01/15/2002 - 7:00pm
Anne Kerven

In a huge win for the cable industry, the Pole Attachments Act does cover attachments that provide high-speed Internet access at the same time as cable TV, the U.S. Supreme Court decided today.

The decision on National Cable & Telecommunications Association Inc. v. Gulf Power Co. et al reverses one from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had held that commingled services of high-speed Internet and traditional cable TV services were not covered by the Act's two rate formulas.

The appeals court had reversed a U.S. Federal Communications Commission decision that the Act did cover pole attachment for the two services, as well as those by wireless telecom providers.

"On (Gulf et al's) view, if a cable company attempts to innovate at all and provide anything other than pure television, it loses the protection of the Pole Attachments Act and subjects itself to monopoly pricing," says Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the decision. "The resulting contradiction of longstanding interpretation - on which cable companies have relied since before the 1996 amendments to the Act - would defeat Congress' general instruction to the FCC to 'encourage the deployment' of broadband Internet capability and, if necessary, 'to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment.' This congressional policy underscores the reasonableness of the FCC's interpretation: Cable attachments providing commingled services come within the ambit of the Act."

"Today's decision is very good news for consumers," says Dan Brenner, National Cable & Telecommunications Association's senior VP of Law and Regulatory Policy. "It means that utility companies cannot charge arbitrarily higher prices for cable attachments to utility poles simply because cable operators provide their customers with high-speed Internet, as well as video services."

Brenner says the decision "overcomes a potential impediment to broadband deployment, especially in rural areas."

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