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FCC pushes forward with broadband agenda

Despite court ruling, commission says it still plans to implement aspects of the National Broadband Plan it presented to Congress last month.

The Federal Communications Commission is moving forward with its National Broadband Plan despite an appeals court decision earlier this week that called into question the agency's authority over regulating the Internet.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Thursday issued a statement that said the court's decision "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 agency plans to start addressing items from its plan as soon as its next open meeting on April 21. The first two items to be considered are reforms to the Universal Service Fund as well as an examination of competition in the cable set-top box market.

Later this summer, the agency plans to start considering rules for a spectrum auction that would put underutilized TV broadcast spectrum back on the market. The auction is controversial since the FCC plans to incentivize broadcasters to give up spectrum by offering to share the proceeds from the auction with them.

In its 2010 Broadband Action Agenda released Thursday, the FCC said it plans to address more than 60 rules in the making and other proposals by the end of the year. The FCC said it was important to move forward with these items to reach its goals of helping 100 million U.S. homes get affordable access to broadband with download speeds of 100 Mbps over the next decade; promoting innovation, investment and competition and consumer interest in broadband; and providing a platform to improve energy consumption and monitoring, education, and health care.

On Tuesday, an appeals court in Washington, D.C., tossed out an FCC cease-and-desist order against cable giant Comcast. The FCC said in 2008 that Comcast had illegally slowed its customers' Bit Torrent traffic. Some experts question whether the ruling has stripped the FCC of its power to enforce basic Internet openness principles.

Officials have noted that some issues may be more difficult to address due to the court decision. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, FCC Chief of Staff Edward Lazarus told an industry group Thursday that the agency hasn't decided how it will respond yet or how it plans to move forward with its Net neutrality rules.

The FCC proposed in September to make Net neutrality principles official regulation. The agency has been examining comments and working on the final language of the regulation.

Consumer advocates would like to see the FCC reclassify broadband Internet traffic so that it is treated like the traditional telephone network. This will give the agency the legal authority to regulate the Net, they argue. But the phone and cable companies are already rallying to fight against this proposal. They claim that turning back the clock and regulating the Internet like the phone network would stifle innovation and investment.