NCTA Tops FCC in Sheet-Rock Case

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.

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 customers, from removing corridor wiring if it were embedded in sheet rock.

The FCC, in a decision sought by cable overbuilder RCN Corp., said sheet rock 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 through the time and expense of installing wires throughout MDUs with interior walls made of sheet rock.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association sued the FCC, arguing that the agency ignored evidence in the record showing that sheet rock 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 commission, saying that the agency offered "no support for its conclusion."

In deciding the case Feb. 17, the court issued an unpublished "judgment" that was not posted on its Web site, where published "opinions" are routinely posted and archived.

The NCTA did not comment on the case until asked to by a reporter Monday.

NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said the trade group did not feel the need to comment when the case was decided last month because so few reporters covered it and because the court opted against posting its decision on the Internet.