Bell South and EarthLink welcome the news that the Supreme Court’s decision last week to weigh in on the debate over regulation of cable TV companies and telephony services.

Telephone companies have long argued that cable TV should be regulated as they are when it comes to voice and data services. The Federal Communications Commission has argued otherwise.

The Supreme Court will hear an appeal of its recent decision declaring that cable companies are subject to regulation since they do contain a telecommunications service and are not strictly an information service.

Cable companies such as Time Warner are aggressively promoting and selling telephony services as well as high-speed Internet access.

“We are confident that we will prevail on the merits and that the Supreme Court will affirm the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that cable modem service contains a telecommunications service. This will settle the matter once and for all, and finally give cable modem users a choice in high-speed Internet providers.,” said Dave Baker, president of law and public policy at EarthLink, in a statement.

EarthLink, which is based in Atlanta, is one of the nation’s largest Internet Service Providers. Its services are delivered primary through traditional telephone networks.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to hear these cases is a positive step,” BellSouth said in a statement. “The high court’s resolution of the cases in favor of the FCC’s previous determination will clear the way for the Commission to finish work on modernizing regulations to allow all internet service providers – phone companies, cable companies, satellite companies and independents – to compete under the same rules as they bring high-speed internet services to their customers.”

Telephone companies have argued that regulation of their high-speed services, such as DSL, gives cable a competitive advantage.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell reiterated his disagreement with the Circuit Court ruling.
“High-speed Internet connections are not telephones, and I’m glad the Supreme Court has agreed to review the 9th Circuit’s ruling that they are,” Powell said. “The 9th Circuit’s decision would have grave consequences for the future and availability of high-speed Internet connections in this country. As the Commission is uniquely charged with the task of promoting the deployment of such advanced services to the public, we look forward to our opportunity to present our case before the high court.”

Robert Sachs, National Cable & Telecommunications Association President and CEO, said in a statement that the Court’s hearing is an opportunity for it to overturn a low court’s interference in matters normally left to the FCC.

“This case presents a fundamental question of communications law, carefully decided by the FCC and then overturned by a circuit court that simply ignored what the agency had done, refusing to accord the FCC the deference Supreme Court precedent requires,” Sachs said.

Hearings are expected in March, and a decision could be made as early as June, according to media reports.