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After prevailing in three legal battles in the last 12 months, cable network operators appear to be winning the war in keeping rival Internet service providers, or ISPs, from accessing cable lines to offer high-speed access. Despite all the attention that the access battle is getting, it makes little difference to many of the ISPs operating in South Florida. That’s because more and more regional ISPs are abandoning the residential market, which wants high-speed cable Internet access, to concentrate on the higher-margin business market. That business market is less interested in access, which is an issue that relates to speed, and more interested in other ISP services such as Web hosting and Internet telephony services. “These days, money is not being made in providing Internet access,” said Joe Marion, executive director of the Federal Internet Solutions Providers Association in Delray Beach. “Rather, money is being made on the business services and solutions we can provide over the Internet.” In fact, the change in the ISPs’ business models has prompted the association to change its name from the Florida Internet Service Providers Association to its current moniker. Marion said half of the roughly 400 ISPs in Florida now focus on business services like telephone calls over the Internet, video-conferencing and Web-based software such as automated billing systems. Steve Harris, chief operating officer of Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based CyberLynx, agrees. He said lack of access to cable TV lines doesn’t affect his company. “We are a high-end ISP that only deals in business-to-business services,” he said, adding that CyberLynx has not focused on people’s homes. The reason CyberLynx and other ISPs have abandoned residential markets is that the profit margins are too small to justify the expenses, Harris said. For instance, CyberGate ValueWeb, one of the first ISPs to enter the Florida market five years ago, generates $10,000 to $20,000 a month from a business customer, compared to $10 a month from a residential customer, said company spokesman Steven Berman. To make money off residential markets, Berman said, ISPs have to sign up thousands of subscribers. This has led to consolidation, with big ISPs like America Online Inc. and EarthLink Inc. gobbling up small regional ISPs, he said. For example, in one of the biggest ISP deals this year, EarthLink completed a $4 billion merger with MindSpring Inc. In October, CyberGate sold its dial-up Internet business, which included several thousand residential subscribers, to EarthLink. It is also easier for ISPs to tap into other types of high-speed Internet networks such as digital subscriber lines, fixed wireless networks, and wireless broadband networks, which are mostly found in commercial districts. ISPs are able to buy bandwidth on such networks from companies like BellSouth, FPL FiberNet and WinStar. That factor also lessens the significance of open access issue for ISPs. Still, the open access battle is a fundamental one for ISPs, which is why many supported a Broward, Fla., ordinance struck down last week by U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks. He ruled the Broward County ordinance unconstitutional. The ordinance required AT&T Broadband and other cable operators to open their high-speed cable networks to Internet rivals. “The time for change is now,” said Andrew Massias, chief executive of WamNet, an ISP based in West Palm Beach, Fla. “Whether ISPs see open access as a business opportunity or not, everyone should be given the opportunity to get a piece of the pie.”

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