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Court to FCC: Back off broadband

| April 8, 2010 9:00 PM

A federal appeals court this week ruled that the Federal Communications Commission did not have the authority to penalize Comcast, a cable internet service provider, for selectively limiting the usage of a few of its customers. Certain high-speed broadband customers were downloading huge files which Comcast said clog up, and slow down, the lines for all its customers.

What does this mean to you? By itself, little. However, in a growing debate over how much power government has to regulate the Internet it's a key statement of the law's current position. In other words, while this case was limited in scope, the subject touched on the free flow of information and for some, the First Amendment.

Ironically both sides of the "Net neutrality" debate can boast a freedom aspect. On one hand, you have a service provider like Comcast, a private corporation, which wants to manage its own business as free from government interference as possible. On the other hand, you have an emerging public interest in free access to Internet information, without unequal limitations on what, or from which source, users can download.

Some in Congress and their supporters advocate expanding FCC regulations to prevent such attempts by wireless and broadband providers from limiting content-heavy customers, such as Google. The obvious fear is that customer access to Web content could be limited to such a point that government may be needed to protect against it.

How realistic is that fear may also be debatable. Some have pointed out that while free access to information is no small thing, as long as there are sufficient competitors in the marketplace, free enterprise will take care of it. In other words, if one provider limits access, another will woo those customers by advertising restraint from such limits.

In any case the problem could stimulate additional improvements in technology. If high downloads are jamming the information highway, engineers may come up with new equipment answers. That's certainly happened before.

"Necessity ... The mother of invention." - Plato, "The Republic"

Sholeh Patrick, J.D., is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Sholehjo@hotmail.com

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