The head of the Federal Communications Commission vowed to press ahead with a broadband expansion plan despite a court ruling this week that undermined the agency's authority to manage networks.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said on Thursday that the appeals court ruling was narrowly cast and he issued a timetable for public comment and rulemaking on broadband goals ranging from reallocating airwaves to expanding Internet access for rural and low-income households.
On Tuesday, a three-judge U.S. appeals court panel ruled that the FCC failed to show that it had the necessary authority to stop Comcast Corp from blocking the use of applications for distributing television shows and other large, bandwidth-hogging files over the Internet.
The ruling dealt a blow to proponents of Net Neutrality, who argue that providers should treat all traffic on the Internet equally, and to the FCC's authority to oversee the Internet.
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, Genachowski said in a statement that included the opening of more than 60 proceedings on elements of the National Broadband Plan.
The court did not question the FCC's goals; it merely invalidated one technical, legal mechanism for broadband policy chosen by prior commissions, he said.
The FCC, which has argued it has broad authority over the Internet, last month unveiled an ambitious plan to upgrade
access for all Americans and shift spectrum from television broadcasters to support the huge demand for smartphones and other wireless devices.
Other goals of the plan include redirecting the Universal Service Fund (USF), that currently subsidizes telephone access, to support high-speed Internet access for the poor and those in rural areas.
On Wednesday, the FCC's general counsel, Austin Schlick, said in a blog post that the court ruling could affect that effort to transform the USF program.
Although Schlick said the ruling has no effect on most of the agency's broadband plan, he said some other aspects like cybersecurity and consumer privacy could be affected.
The court ruling is likely to set off a flurry of lobbying at the FCC by Internet access and content providers like Google Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc seeking to influence the agency's next move.
The FCC has not indicated whether it plans to appeal the court's ruling.
The decision could free broadband providers from numerous requirements in the short term, however the FCC could try to reclassify the service into a different category that would permit the agency to apply more regulations, one analyst has said.
The FCC's 2010 timetable for pursuing its broadband plan can be found at: http://www.broadband.gov/plan/broadband-action-agenda.html
(Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)