Are the bits flowing into and out of your house a utility, like electricity and water, and subject to regulation? California thinks so. Following closely on an FCC decision to free cable companies from the specter of having to share their wires, a judge from California's Public Utility has ruled that the agency has the authority to regulate some aspects of DSL service in that state. In particular, the PUC can set rules on "provisioning," that is, how and under what conditions the owners of phone wires must make them available to competitors.
The ruling comes late in the competitive game -- SBC, parent of California telco Pacific Bell, already controls 90 percent of the DSL market there -- but could be significant if other states follow suit. Coverage of the PUC decision was light, and leaned on the consumer angle. News.com outlined the litany of complaints against SBC: "billing for services ordered but never received, billing for services that were not ordered, multiple billings for the same service, and billing for services that were promoted as free." The L.A. Times spelled out the matters over which the PUC has asserted oversight: "the quality of service provided, how it is marketed, and a provider's DSL business practices." The Times' was the only report we reviewed to put a number on the customers affected by the ruling: 700,000 in California, more than half of the total DSL customers that SBC claims nationwide.
InternetNews provided a comprehensive history of the beef between SBC and the ISP community; the article was rich in links to earlier coverage. Their reporter found an ISP spokesman who nutshelled the stakes in the fight: It will determine "whether Internet users will have a choice in the content and applications that will become available in the future." - Keith Dawson
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