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Utilities may hang-up modem service

Utility companies could stall the introduction of high-speed Internet services if they are allowed to weaken federal caps on rates cable companies pay to string their wires on power poles, government and cable industry attorneys told the Supreme Court Tuesday.

At issue is whether Congress granted the FCC authority to cap rates cable companies pay when they offer Internet service over lines attached to utility poles or whether the caps apply to lines used to only carry TV programming and a narrow selection of telecommunications services.

The FCC and the cable industry argue that Congress gave the FCC broad authority to cap rates on attachments used for several types of services in addition to TV because it was eager to speed the introduction of Internet and telecommunications services. "The only way to achieve both is to cover co-mingled attachments," said Peter Keisler, attorney for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Keisler made his comment during oral arguments of the NCTA's appeal of a decision handed down by the federal appeals court in Atlanta in April 2000 striking down the FCC's to cap rates for pole attachments when cable companies add Internet services. Utility companies challenged the FCC price controls, arguing that the FCC has no authority over the business.

Although the justices appeared sympathetic to the FCC position, several voiced frustration that the agency has failed to decide how cable-delivered Internet service should be regulated.Bill McConnell