FCC backs AT&T on cable ‘Net access

Portland ruling challenged

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission Monday gave a boost to AT&T, which is challenging a requirement by Portland, Ore., that the company open its cable Internet service to competitors.

The FCC filed a “friend of the court” brief in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering an appeal from a lower judge’s ruling, but stopped short of actually endorsing AT&T’s position.

In May, U.S District Judge Owen Panner upheld the authority of the city of Portland and county of Multnomah in Oregon to require that AT&T allow others onto its cable Internet network as a condition of the company’s $48 billion acquisition of cable operator Tele-Communications Inc.

Panner’s decision about AT&T, the nation’s second-largest cable operator, sparked other cities to consider similar regulations and knocked down share prices of cable company stocks.

In its filing, the FCC said it is “the agency charged with implementing federal communications policy” and “the only agency with jurisdiction over all the current providers of broadband technology.”

Tom Power, senior legal adviser to FCC chairman William Kennard, said the chairman himself believes the city of Portland lacks authority to require AT&T to permit open access.

“It is far too early for any government regulator to move in,” Kennard said in a statement.

But Power said the FCC as a whole has made no such finding, and the brief can do no more than reflect the view of the FCC. So the FCC cautioned the 9th Circuit Court to decide matters narrowly.

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