This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

Supremes to Untangle FCC, Telecom Fights

Jan 23 2001 12:00 AM PST

The high court agrees to hear cases that would decide how much telcos may charge cable companies.

The Supreme Court agreed to rule on several cases touching on the Net economy. But don't hold your breath: Eight persons in black will hear oral arguments no earlier than October. (Justice O'Connor recused herself because she owns telecom stock.) The coverage was pretty dry - many outlets didn't even bother to get fresh quotes from the parties involved, instead constructing their stories from previous reporting on the court cases.

Most of the stories outlined one or two of the five issues the Supremes yesterday agreed to hear. Everybody wrote about the fight over how much utility and phone companies will be allowed to charge cable operators to tack wires to their poles. The New York Times also went into the beef over how much the Baby Bells can charge new competitors to connect to their old networks. Both of these cases involve the Federal Communications Commission and questions over the reach of its authority.

The Wall Street Journal glanced briefly at all five cases, including one involving simulated child pornography that doesn't involve real children. The Journal's reporter helpfully listed all 10 lower-court cases that the Supreme Court consolidated into the five appeals it will hear. The AP gave a full explanation of the poles-and-cables beef.

One might have expected the Washington Post to offer the definitive coverage of stories involving the FCC and the Supreme Court. But the paper ran a brief Reuters piece instead of assigning a reporter. Reuters did note that the cable industry's appeal is backed by a number of wireless companies.

It fell to the New York Times to explain the two FCC-related cases in simple terms. Reporter Stephen Labaton used the analogy of PC prices to explain the complicated question of forward-looking vs. historical pricing in the residential phone business. And Labaton made the cable companies' complaint concrete by citing some of the per-pole price increases utility companies imposed after a favorable lower-court ruling. "The Gulf Power Company ... raised its attachment rate to $38.06 from $6.20." That's gotta hurt.

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