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ACLU Calls for Cable Open Access

3/07/2005 8:35 AM Eastern

The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on the Supreme Court to ensure that cable’s high-speed-data service is covered by regulations that prevent discrimination against competing data providers.

The Supreme Court is to hear oral arguments March 29 in a case that could decide whether cable has to comply with so-called open-access mandates, which would allow consumers to choose their Internet-service provider.

The Federal Communications Commission’s decision to classify cable-modem service as an unregulated information service “threatens free speech and privacy,” the ACLU said in a Supreme Court brief filed in late February

The ACLU portrayed cable as the dominant provider of residential high-speed access, calling digital-subscriber-line services, wireless providers and satellite access inferior competitors.

“Not only will [cable] be allowed to charge whatever toll they want, they will be able to discriminate against other ISPs, effectively refusing to allow FedEx trucks on a UPS-only road,” the ACLU said.

The ACLU, a 400,000-member organization dedicated to protecting free speech, indicated that consumer interest in having multiple ISPs trumped cable’s right to provide an unregulated service because the vast majority of communities have only one cable company and the lack of competition posed a “danger of private censorship.”

The ACLU said cable companies could engage in various forms of discrimination against consumers, from reviewing e-mails to extracting marketing data to slowing down transmission speeds to Web sites that compete against cable-affiliated products.

“An ISP controlled by a politically inclined CEO or board could use the network to promote political positions supporting its candidates or issue,” the ACLU said. “It could block or slow access to the Web sites of rival candidates, or redirect users to the preferred candidate’s site.”

September