We await a more definitive (and expert) view, but it appears that the court ruling this week finding that federal regulators had limited authority over Internet traffic will also slow deployment of broadband to rural areas. The New York Times wrote that “the national broadband plan released by the administration last month proposed to shift billions of dollars in money from a fund to provide phone service in rural areas to one that helps pay for Internet access in those areas. Legal observers said the court decision suggested that the F.C.C. did not have the authority to make that switch.”
The story coming out of the federal appeals court ruling is mostly about net neutrality, and, indeed, the court ruled that cable owner Comcast had the right to slow its customers’ access to certain web services. (Net neutrality would force providers to treat all web sites equally.) But the ruling also affects the FCC’s plan to roll out broadband services to rural areas.
Washington Post tech writer Cecilia Kang writes that FCC General Counsel Austin Schlick said in a blog post that “key aspects of the plan to bring affordable broadband connections will be hindered. Those include goals of bringing broadband to low-income and rural areas and getting those communities to adopt the technology. Experts say the FCC may not be able to convert a $8 billion phone subsidy to be used also for new broadband networks after the court’s decision.”