Cablers make case

High Court asked to rule on utility pole discount

WASHINGTON — Cablers will shimmy up to the U.S. Supreme Court today to argue that they shouldn’t have to pay market rates when using utility poles to wire a customer with Internet or phone service.

Rather, such fees should be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, just as fees are for cablers using utility poles to provide traditional TV service.

The argument comes at a dicey time for cablers and telecoms, who are each trying to carve out their piece of the broadband market.

Utilities appear to hold an advantage going into today’s Supreme Court hearing, with a federal appeals court having ruled that cablers shouldn’t be given a regulatory break when using utility poles for nontraditional services, i.e., cable modem service and telephony.

In asking the supremes to overturn the appellate order, the cable biz will argue that it’s just plain wrong to hike up the cost of renting some space on a utility pole. At a briefing Monday, the National Cable & Telecommunications said there will be “tremendous rate implications” for cable customers if the utility biz is exempted from having to offer regulated rates.

“Does the FCC lose jurisdiction when cable combines traditional TV service with broadband? We say no,” an NCTA staffer said.

No discount for competish

Phone companies, however, say they shouldn’t have to give a price break to a direct competitor.

One TV exec said it could cost the cable biz as much as $100 million a month if forced to pay market rates when using utility poles for phone and Internet services. The exec stressed this was just a rough estimate.

Those following the dispute predict that Congress will eventually be asked to decide the matter.

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