The Dutch government has ruled that local cable networks must be open to rival internet suppliers, but partly allayed cable operators' fears by delaying the introduction of "open access" for at least two years.

The cabinet also said that new legislation will be drawn up in line with wider European regulations and that it will take into account factual developments in the Dutch market.

Fears that the government would throw open the cable networks that deliver the majority of the country's television was a major factor in the delays to the flotation of cable giant UPC's chello broadband subsidiary. Cable companies argued that if they are made to carry services from competing internet service providers (ISPs) they will not have time to earn a return on their investment on network upgrading.

On Friday, Casema, the Netherlands' number three network operator, which is also in talks to acquire number two player Essent Kabelcom, said that it would now halt its investment programme. But UPC, the market leader, said it was satisfied with the ruling: "Rather than setting an arbitrary date for regulated access to hybrid fibre-coaxial cable television networks for ISPs, such access remains conditional on the actual market power of a company in the relevant market."

UPC argues that internet via the cable has plenty of competition from dial-up modems, ADSL, satellite and increasingly mobile connections. Only hours before the cabinet made its position clear, UPC chairman Mark Schneider sounded off angrily and accused the country's dominant telco KPN of trying to handicap the competition. "They will wreck it. You cannot maintain quality. It does not work and it is not fair on capital investment." He also explained that having more than one return path on a single network is not technically possible at present.