Page last updated at 08:49 GMT, Thursday, 8 April 2010 09:49 UK

US broadband plan in flux after net neutrality ruling

Fibre optic cable (file image)
The US ranks 15th in the world for providing access to high-speed internet

Large parts of a US plan to give its citizens high speed net access are threatened by a court ruling involving net neutrality, regulators have warned.

On 6 April a court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had no authority to sanction cable firm Comcast for slowing some net traffic.

Advocacy groups said this ruling put the US broadband plan in legal limbo.

The FCC has admitted that the "decision may affect a significant number of important plan recommendations".

In a blogpost, Austin Schlick the FCC's general counsel listed some of the 200 recommendations made under the plan that he said are now in flux as a result of the court ruling.

He said they include efforts "aimed at accelerating broadband access and adoption in rural America; connecting low-income Americans, Native American communities, and Americans with disabilities".

In addition, he said, the ruling could threaten cybersecurity and consumer privacy, although admitted that much of the plan would be untouched.

The FCC unveiled its proposals last month with the goal of connecting 100 million homes to broadband by 2020.

It said it is looking at the implications of the decision made by the US Appeals court for the District of Columbia.

Wired nation

The court ruled in favour of Comcast, which had challenged FCC sanctions placed on it for violating open internet principles by slowing traffic to subscribers downloading large files using peer-to peer file-sharing services like BitTorrent.

The FCC had argued that all internet traffic should be treated equally and that it had the authority to police internet service providers (ISPs) and stop them from blocking or slowing down connections.

The court saw things differently and ruled that Congress had not given the FCC the power to regulate an ISP's network management practices

Net neutrality supporters said this decision cast into limbo the agency's ability to regulate broadband services.

The FCC has extended the deadline for comment on net neutrality rules, where all internet traffic is treated equally.

A number of groups including the US Telecom Association and the Open Internet Coalition asked for the extension following the court ruling.

The new deadline is now April 26.

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