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4/9/2010
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FCC May Change National Broadband Plan

Revisions are being considered to comply with the Comcast court ruling that invalidated the Federal Communications Commission's Net neutrality policy.

The Federal Communication Commission is considering changes to its National Broadband Plan in order to abide by a federal appellate court ruling that invalidated the plan's Internet neutrality policy.

While insisting that the court decision would have little effect on most of the plan, FCC general counsel Austin Schlick said in his blog that the ruling "may affect a significant number of important plan recommendations."

Those elements of the plan being considered for possible changes include recommendations aimed at improving broadband access in rural areas and helping poor people, people with disabilities, and Native American communities connect to the Internet. In addition, changes are possible to proposals on helping small businesses and strengthening public safety communications, cybersecurity, and consumer protection.

"The Commission must have a sound legal basis for implementing each of these recommendations," Schlick wrote on Wednesday. "We are assessing the implications of (Tuesday's) decision for each one, to ensure that the commission has adequate authority to execute the mission laid out in the plan."

FCC authority was at the heart of the court's decision to side with Comcast, which had argued that the commission overstepped its powers in August 2008 when it told the cable company that it couldn't slow data traffic to bandwidth-hogging customers using the BitTorrent service. People use BitTorrent to share movies, legally and illegally, and other large files between home computers.

The FCC has taken the position that Internet service providers, such as Comcast, should treat all end users and Web site publishers equally, regardless of how much bandwidth they consume. However, the court ruled that the FCC lacked the authority from Congress to enforce its so-called "Net neutrality" policy.

While acknowledging that the court nixed the FCC's legal approach in dealing with Comcast, Schlick said the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit did not change the FCC's mission in regards to the Internet.

"The nation's broadband networks represent the indispensable infrastructure for American competitiveness and prospects for future job creation, economic growth, and innovation," Schlick said. "The court did not adopt the view that the commission lacks authority to protect the openness of the Internet."

Meanwhile, the FCC announced Friday that SamKnows has been selected to provide broadband testing in an FCC project to get a fuller understanding of Internet speeds across the nation. In the coming weeks, the commission plans to ask for volunteers willing to install hardware in their homes so the government can measure Internet speeds.

The project is part of the FCC's goal to provide consumers with accurate information about their broadband service, apart from the often-misleading claims of service providers. The commission has already posted tools on its Web site that people can use to measure the speed of their service.

"One of the central components of the National Broadband Plan is to increase the amount of information consumers have about the performance of their broadband service," Dave Vorhaus, adviser on economic opportunity for the FCC, said in his blog. "Transparency makes markets more competitive as consumers are armed with the information they need to choose providers and understand the service they receive."

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