BY ANDREA FIGLER A council member in Montgomery County, Md., could intensify the regulatory battle over who governs cable modem service next month. Marilyn Praisner pushed through a county amendment in December that imposes strict cable modem regulations, such as providing a minimum level of bandwidth and download capacity, on all local cable operators starting in March. The amendment also creates an independent commission to help resolve increasing cable modem complaints. “You can’t go into the grocery store without receiving complaints about this,” says Praisner. “At least I can’t.” While the exact language for the standards is still being drafted by the county’s executive office, it will be similar to the proposed terms, which include maintaining 1 megabits per second in download bandwidth for at least 18 hours, and mail servers that can actively accept inbound e-mail messages 95% of one full week, Praisner says. A spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association says his staff is not aware of any similar standards being proposed or adopted by any local franchise authority elsewhere in the United States. While a few other municipalities have included modem service as part of their customer-service code, none have gone this far, according to five cable industry sources. Comcast Corp., one of the main cable operators in the county, has serious concerns about these new regulations, a Comcast spokesperson says. The MSO sent a letter Feb. 5 to the council expressing these concerns. Comcast would not discuss the letter until the council reviewed it. Almost a year ago, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that cable modem service should be classified as an information service rather than a cable service. Cable operators have argued that this classification removes cable modem service from any regulatory constraints. Local franchise authorities, however, have the right to set customer standards and service requirements, setting up an inevitable legal battle.

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