Cable Companies Lose to ISPs in Florida Vote

Cable companies operating in some parts of Broward County, Florida, must open access to their high-speed Internet networks to competition, the county commission there decided yesterday.

The Broward commission is the second local governing body, after Portland, Oregon, to approve such an ordinance in the U.S.

The Broward commission voted 4-3 that cable companies must open access to networks in unincorporated neighborhoods of the county. Unincorporated areas are not governed by a local municipality, but instead are subject to county regulations.

In Broward, located in southeastern Florida, GTE Corp. and Internet service providers (ISPs) proposed the county ordinance, which opens up high-speed networks to competition. The ordinance was debated by the commission for months and brought a flood of lobbyists to the county, according to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, which closely followed the issue.

About 8 percent of Broward County is unincorporated, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

The cable debate pits GTE against AT&T Corp., which opposed the ordinance. AT&T is buying TeleCommunications Inc. and the MediaOne Group and, the Sun-Sentinel reported, hired more than a dozen lobbyists to battle the ordinance. The newspaper reported in its online edition this morning that cable company representatives will meet and could file suit against the commission to block the ordinance later today. Even if legal action isn't undertaken that quickly, the ordinance is likely to be challenged, as a similar measure went to federal court in Oregon.

A federal district judge in Oregon ruled last month that local regulators can force AT&T to open its high-speed cable network to competing ISPs. [See "AT&T Takes a Blow in Cable Fight with ISPs," June 4. ] AT&T has suggested that it will appeal that ruling and is arguing that local regulators in Portland and Multnomah County have no legal authority over cable franchises.

Thus far, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has kept out of the Internet regulation fray, so companies have appealed to local governments to take charge of ordering networks to open up to competition.

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