The Federal Communications Commission in the United States says telephone companies will no longer be required to open up their lines to competing broadband service providers.

The FCC says it will treat broadband delivered over telephone lines as an “information service”, freeing providers from “common carrier” requirements to lease network access to competitors at regulated rates.

This places broadband services delivered over digital subscriber line telephone circuits on an equal footing with services offered over cable television networks.

The FCC has previously argued that cable and phone companies should be on a level playing field. This was upheld by a ruling from the Supreme Court in June that concluded cable companies were not bound by the same requirements as phone companies. The telephone industry argued that this put it at a competitive disadvantage and that it should be treated equally.

Kevin Martin, the FCC Chairman, described the order as “momentous”. He added that there was more to do to stimulate infrastructure investment, broadband deployment and competition in the broadband market, saying: “I intend to tackle these challenges in the upcoming months.”

It is good news for phone companies like SBC and Verizon, which are making major investments in rolling out broadband infrastructure, but it could be bad news for independent broadband service providers, which will have to negotiate rates and may have to pay higher charges.

The FCC says that consistent regulatory treatment of competing broadband platforms will enable potential investors in broadband network platforms to make market-based, rather than regulation-driven, investment and deployment decisions.

The commission also published a policy statement outlining four principles to encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of public internet.

The principles state that consumers are entitled to access lawful internet content of their choice, are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, to connect legal devices that do not harm the network, and are entitled to competition between providers of networks, applications, services and content.

At the same time, it said that providers of certain broadband and voice over internet protocol services that interconnect with the public telephone network must be prepared to accommodate law enforcement wiretaps.