FCC pursues broadband agenda in spite of legal setback

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Net Work blog at PCWorld.com.

Net neutrality and the National Broadband Plan are both alive and well. Contrary to the media frenzy and expert punditry in the wake of a US district court decision rejecting attempts by the FCC to impose its will on Comcast, there were no broader implications regarding the general authority of the FCC.

The court decision was a specific ruling about a specific incident, based on the specific circumstances and methods used by the FCC at the time it sought to bar Comcast from arbitrarily discriminating against peer-to-peer network traffic. The court ruling in that specific case does not imply that the FCC has no authority to oversee entities like Comcast, just that the FCC failed to do so properly in that particular instance.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski explained in a statement: “The court decision earlier this week does not change our broadband policy goals, or the ultimate authority of the FCC to act to achieve those goals. The court did not question the FCC’s goals; it merely invalidated one technical, legal mechanism for broadband policy chosen by prior Commissions.”

The FCC, unhindered by the court decision in the Comcast case, is marching forward with determination to begin implementing aspects of the National Broadband Plan. The 2010 Broadband Action Agenda is comprised of four major initiatives:

  1. Promote world-leading mobile broadband infrastructure and innovation.
  2. Accelerate universal broadband access and adoption, and advance national purposes such as education and health care.
  3. Foster competition and maximize consumer benefits across the broadband ecosystem.
  4. Advance robust and secure public safety communications networks.

Genachowski described the FCC agenda for 2010 in the written statement. “Our implementation plan lays out a roadmap for reforming universal service to connect all Americans to broadband, including in rural areas; unleashing spectrum, promoting competition and supporting small businesses; protecting and empowering consumers; safeguarding on-line privacy; increasing adoption in all communities and ensuring fair access for people with disabilities; protecting broadband networks against cyber attack and other disasters; and ensuring that all users can reach 911 in an emergency.

In pursuit of these initiatives, the FCC has planned more than 60 rulemaking and notice-and-comment proceedings. It is the goal of the FCC to begin implementing the National Broadband Plan through these open, participatory sessions--providing ample opportunity for all interested parties to contribute to the process.”

Genachowski summed up by stressing: “It is essential that the Commission act on this roadmap to protect America’s global competitiveness and help deliver the extraordinary benefits of broadband to all Americans.”

The FCC has established a Web site where you can track the progress of steps taken to implement the National Broadband Plan. The Broadband Action Agenda site allows users to go directly to specific chapters and sections of the National Broadband Plan to read it online, or simply download the complete text. Users can also share stories of why access to high-speed broadband is important.

Opponents of net neutrality can sweep up the confetti and put the cork back in champagne. The party celebrating the end of FCC authority and the death of net neutrality efforts was a tad premature.

As I wrote back in January: “Comcast prevailing in this appeal could be just the incentive needed to drive FCC efforts to develop formal net neutrality rules.” Contrary to demonstrating that the FCC has no authority over Internet and broadband providers, the court decision simply proves why a formalized set of net neutrality rules is necessary.

[Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies.]

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