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FCC: 60 New Proceedings in '10 Related to Broadband Plan

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will launch more than 60 rulemaking and other proceedings in 2010 in an effort to implement the national broadband plan it released in March, the agency said Thursday.

The FCC will move forward with the proceedings even as some telecom law experts have questioned the agency's authority to implement parts of the plan following a U.S. appeals court ruling this week. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit threw out an FCC ruling forcing Comcast to follow the agency's 2005 network neutrality principles, causing some telecom law experts to ask whether the agency currently has the authority to regulate broadband service

But FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski downplayed the court decision's impact on the broadband plan, which focuses on deploying broadband to all U.S. residents and increasing broadband speeds to consumers and to hospitals, schools, government and other community buildings.

"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. "The court did not question the FCC's goals; it merely invalidated one technical, legal mechanism for broadband policy chosen by prior commissions."

The Comcast decision has "no effect" on most of the broadband plan, Austin Schlick, the FCC's general counsel, wrote in a blog post late Wednesday. Many of the plan's recommendations involve areas where the FCC has clear authority, he said.

Still, in several areas, the Comcast case may have an impact, including FCC efforts to encourage broadband deployment to rural areas, to improve cybersecurity and to protect broadband customers, he wrote. "The commission must have a sound legal basis for implementing each of these recommendations," he said. "We are assessing the implications of [Tuesday's] decision for each one, to ensure that the commission has adequate authority to execute the mission laid out in the plan."

The four main broadband goals for the FCC in 2010 will be to promote world-leading mobile broadband infrastructure, to speed up broadband deployment and adoption, to foster broadband competition, and to move toward a nationwide wireless broadband network for public safety agencies such as police and fire departments.

To accomplish those four goals, the FCC will launch more than 60 proceedings by the end of the year, the agency said.

To open up more mobile broadband spectrum, the agency plans to release two orders and launch three notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs), including a controversial proposal to encourage television broadcasters to give up or share spectrum in return for a portion of auction revenues. The agency plans to launch the broadcast TV spectrum innovation NPRM in the third quarter of this year.

NPRMs are the start of an FCC effort to make new rules or regulations. Some NPRMs can take years to finish, and in some cases, the FCC decides not to take action.

The FCC also plans to begin work on a revamp of the high-cost portion of the Universal Service Fund, which now subsidizes traditional telephone service in rural and other expensive-to-serve areas. The FCC has proposed to transition the US$4.6-billion-a-year fund to subsidize broadband deployment over a 10-year period, but some telecom law experts have questioned whether the FCC has the authority to make that switch after the court ruling this week.

Under the broadband plan schedule released Thursday, it's full-steam ahead for USF reform. The FCC plans, in the second quarter, to begin seeking comments on how to reform the high-cost fund, and in the fourth quarter, it plans to release a further notice of proposed rulemaking specifically addressing the switch from a telephone fund to a broadband fund.

The commission also plans to take several steps toward a wireless broadband network for emergency response agencies. In the second or third quarter, the FCC plans to act on several questions by public safety agencies to use spectrum in the 700MHz band, most of which was auctioned to private mobile carriers in March 2008. The agency also plans to launch an NPRM in the second or third quarter that would give public safety agencies priority access to commercial networks.

The commission also plans proceedings in 2010 on broadband access for people with disabilities, on cybersecurity, on 911 emergency dialing services, on increasing data collection about broadband, on the cost of wholesale and business broadband lines and on increasing the availability of smart video devices.

"It is essential that the commission act on this road map to protect America's global competitiveness and help deliver the extraordinary benefits of broadband to all Americans," Genachowski said.

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