ISP group lends support to cable court case

A group of Internet service providers has filed papers to show its support for Oregon officials who are embroiled in a closely watched court case that pits proponents of cable open access against AT&T.

A group of Internet service providers has filed papers to show its support for Oregon officials who are embroiled in a closely watched court case that pits proponents of cable open access against AT&T.

The OpenNet Coalition filed documents today with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the city of Portland.

The city and neighboring High speed pipe dreams?Multnomah county believe local officials have the right to require AT&T, now the local cable provider following its merger with Tele-Communications Incorporated, to open its networks for use by Internet service providers (ISPs). AT&T has since sued over this controversial "open access" requirement.

Although not unexpected, today's amicus briefs--also known as "friend of the court" filings--are the latest step in an ongoing, high-stakes legal battle over cable access.

A group of cities and local government organizations is expected to file a similar brief later today.

ISPs want to pay cable operators to use their wires to deliver their own high-speed Net access services, while the cable industry argues they should be allowed to use their own networks without interference from competitors. High-speed, or broadband, cable Net connections are expected to be one of the main methods of connecting to the Internet as the technology becomes widespread, analysts say.

In a consolidated filing expected later today, the city of San Francisco will file a similar "friend of the court" brief supporting Portland on behalf of several other cities and local government groups. The group includes the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Administrators, as well as officials from Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Jose, California, among others.

In July, a contentious debate over cable access in San Francisco ended without imposing "open access" requirements on AT&T's networks in the Bay Area. But the city retained the right to revisit the issue if Portland succeeds in its lawsuit.

The Federal Communications Commission and Excite@Home, the nation's largest cable modem service which is owned, in part, by AT&T, filed "friend of the court" briefs opposing forced cable access last month.

Opening oral arguments are expected to begin in late October or early November, according to people familiar with the court case. Observers say its is difficult to determine when a ruling could be handed down.

Separately, OpenNet said its ISP membership has more than doubled in recent months to 750 member companies.

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