Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Broadband for everyone? Not so fast.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 7, 2010 at 10:11 AM

In a huge blow, yesterday ...

A federal court threw the future of Internet regulations and U.S. broadband expansion plans into doubt Tuesday with a far-reaching decision that went against the Federal Communications Commission.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC lacks authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks. That was a big victory for Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable company, which had challenged the FCC's authority to impose such "network neutrality" obligations on broadband providers.

The unanimous ruling by the three-judge panel marks a serious setback for the FCC, which is trying to adopt official net neutrality regulations. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat, argues such rules are needed to prevent phone and cable companies from using their control over Internet access to favor some kinds of online content and services over others.

The case centers on Comcast's actions in 2007 when it interfered with an online file-sharing service called BitTorrent, which allows users to swap big files such as movies over the Internet. But public interest groups stressed that the ramifications of Tuesday's ruling are much broader. That's because it undercuts the FCC's ability to prevent broadband providers from becoming gatekeepers for many kinds of online services, potentially including Internet phone programs and software that runs in a Web browser.

"Today's appeals court decision means there are no protections in the law for consumers' broadband services," Gigi Sohn, co-founder of Public Knowledge, said in a statement. "Companies selling Internet access are free to play favorites with content on their networks, to throttle certain applications or simply to block others."

Read the rest of this Associated Press article, by Joelle Tessler, here.

This is a big deal. Why? As more and more of our formerly printed processes — filled out a job application lately? — our news and governmental information seems to be available exclusively online, people's access to the Internet is becoming an issue of must-have vs. luxury.

From last month, a great summary of the issue:

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