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Court Upholds FCC Call on Broadband Access

A federal court ruled that it was within the Federal Communications Commission's power to rule that telephone companies did not have to provide nondiscriminatory access to independent Internet-service providers.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday denied a petition challenging that authority that had been filed by independent ISPs and cable-modem providers including EarthLink, ISP association Comptel and Time Warner Telecom.

To level the playing field, the FCC subsequently ruled that cable networks’ and wireless providers’ broadband service was an information service and not subject to nondiscriminatory access requirements for phone service.

It was those decisions that helped to stir up the "network-neutrality" debate.

The court was not ruling on the policy itself, but instead on whether it was within the FCC's authority to make that ruling. Courts generally show deference to agency expertise absent a showing that it has exceeded its authority.

"We conclude that the Wireline Broadband Order was based on a permissible interpretation of the Communications Act and a proper exercise of agency discretion," the court said. "Accordingly, we will deny the petition for review."

FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who backed the rule changes, praised the decision.

"I am pleased that the court affirmed the FCC’s decision to remove outdated, decades-old regulations from today’s broadband services," he said in a statement. "By removing such regulations, the commission encouraged broadband investment and fostered competition. As a result of the commission's deregulatory policies, broadband adoption has increased and consumers have benefited in the form of lower prices and improved broadband service."