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ISP's end run to high-speed service smothered

Federal regulators block at least one potential avenue for Internet service providers hoping to deliver high-speed access by means of cable TV.

Federal regulators today put an end to at least one potential avenue for Internet service providers hoping to deliver high-speed Internet access by means of cable TV wires.

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously denied a petition by Los Angeles-based Internet Ventures to classify Internet content as akin to video programming. Such a ruling could have allowed Internet Ventures, which operates small ISPs such as PerkiNet and Internet On-Ramp, to force cable operators to provide the company with leased access to their networks.

The ruling is consistent with the FCC's hands-off policy regarding the similar, but broader, push for "open access." Under that banner, companies which offer Net services by means of slow, "dial-up" phone connections have sought the right to tap into established cable networks.

The FCC on several occasions has declined to require cable operators to allow unaffiliated ISPs to use their networks, arguing it is too early in the development of the high-speed, or broadband, services market to intervene. High-speed Net services are expected to quickly become a lucrative market and replace dial-up Net access methods.

Internet Ventures' efforts, although unique, sought the same end goal by using existing "leased access" laws to gain cable access.

The leased access law is intended to provide for a variety a TV programming, because many of the large cable operators also own much of the programming. Leasing allows for independent programmers to deliver their TV shows. But the law applies only to video services.

Internet Ventures, which tried to apply leased access laws in several markets including Colorado and Washington, believes Net access should be considered a video service because the online medium increasingly offers streaming multimedia content such as video. Today's 5-0 ruling indicates the FCC does not agree.

"There's open access, there's leased access and now there will be no access," Internet Ventures president Don Janke said in a statement. "The FCC's regulation today will deprive thousands of ISPs and their subscribers of the benefits of the broadband revolution."

But the cable industry argued Internet Ventures' arguments were preposterous.

"I realized after reading about three paragraphs of the Internet Ventures petitions that their argument was based on just an absurd interpretation of federal law," said Peter Arnold, executive director of Hands Off the Internet, an AT&T-backed anti-regulation group. "It was a push for open access by another means.

"This was a very commonsensical ruling (by the FCC)," Arnold said.