Appeals Court Backs FCC on Fiber Line Sharing

Appeals court backs FCC on fiber line sharing A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday upheld a 2004 decision by telecommunications regulators allowing regional phone companies to deploy new fiber-optic lines without having to share them with competitors.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a legal challenge by Internet service provider EarthLink Inc. aimed at overturning a decision by the Federal Communications Commission.

The court said it was "permissible" for the FCC to absolve the dominant local telephone carriers, known as the Baby Bells, of sharing requirements when it comes to new fiber optic networks.

To promote competition, previous rules have required the Bells to lease access to their copper networks since they own the lines into most American homes. But the FCC so far has been reluctant to apply those regulations to new fiber lines.

New fiber-optic networks are seen as pivotal for telephone companies because the capacity of those lines enable them to offer high-speed Internet service -- or broadband -- to more customers, as well as launch video and other services.

They are facing fierce competition from cable television companies that have already upgraded their networks and offer customers those services.

EarthLink's executive vice president for public policy, Chris Putala, said the company would "continue to pursue commercial negotiations for access to fiber just as we have for DSL (digital subscriber line)."

"If we see that consumers are being harmed by a lack of competition, we will be revisiting this issue with the FCC and Congress," Putala said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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