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SBC, Charter Spat Over Data Policies

SBC Communications Inc. wants to lighten its federal regulatory burden while placing its competitors under greater local oversight, or so claimed Charter Communications Inc.

The MSO believes SBC is working both sides of the political street by urging the Federal Communications Commission to limit regulation of digital subscriber line (DSL) service, while encouraging strict local oversight for cable-modem service.

In a July 26 letter to the FCC, Charter senior vice president, general counsel and secretary Curtis S. Shaw said comments SBC filed concerning the agency's open-access docket "are belied by recent SBC conduct in the field."

In its comments, SBC said cable modems do not provide a cable service, and that such a classification would result in "a quagmire of local franchising requirements."

Instead, it argued that Internet-over-cable is an information service, so the FCC should either promulgate regulations or impose the same access requirements on cable systems and local-exchange carriers.

But while arguing these points at the FCC, SBC has urged St. Louis not to repeal an open-access ordinance enacted in 1999.

"SBC's position in St. Louis is utterly inconsistent with the company's assertion in the commission's Internet-over-cable docket, where it urged that Internet-over-cable is not a cable service and should not be governed by local franchise," Shaw wrote.

"Seems a little inconsistent, doesn't it?" said Charter vice president of government relations Celeste Vossmeyer. "They want to subject us to the heavy hand of regulation, while trying to free themselves. We wrote the letter because we wanted to make sure the FCC is aware of these types of inconsistencies."

SBC pitched its access plan to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen during a hearing on a Charter franchise-renewal agreement that included a repeal of the access ordinance in exchange for a 15-year pact to upgrade St. Louis's antiquated cable system.

Aldermen are expected to take up the issue on Sept. 14. At press time, SBC officials had not returned calls for comment.