NCTA Tops FCC Over Sheetrock Rules

The cable industry has won a court case that is likely to cement MSOs’ competitive advantage in apartment buildings, or, as regulators like to call them, multiple-dwelling units (MDUs).

In a decision last month, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down a Federal Communications Commission rule that effectively barred cable incumbents, after losing a customer, from removing corridor wiring if it were embedded in Sheetrock.

The FCC, in a decision sought by cable overbuilder RCN Corp., said that Sheetrock was akin to metal and brick, and wiring covered by it should be considered “physically inaccessible.”

The upshot was that under the FCC rulings, RCN did not have to go to the time and expense of installing wires throughout an MDU with interior walls made of Sheetrock.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association sued the FCC, arguing that the FCC ignored evidence in the record that showed Sheetrock was not as costly and difficult to drill and penetrate as brick and metal.

The D.C. Circuit agreed with the NCTA and sent the rule back to the FCC, saying the agency offered “no support for its conclusion.”

In deciding the case on Feb. 17, the court issued an unpublished “judgment” that was not posted on the court’s Web site, where published “opinions” are routinely posted and archived.