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The FCC's plan to overhaul rural broadband escapes court battle

The FCC's plan to overhaul rural broadband escapes court battle

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A plan to bring partially-subsidized, high speed broadband to approximately 7 million households is back on track today following a federal appeals court ruling. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver rejected challenges from a number of telecommunications companies on a plan by the Federal Communication Commission to bring high-speed internet to residents in rural parts of the US.

That effort relied on fees paid by other customers, as well as federal funding to subsidize some of the higher expense that come with delivering service to those areas. In its ruling, which was reported by The New York Times, the court said it found arguments made by those telecommunications companies to be "either unpersuasive or barred from judicial review."

14 million without access to the internet

The FCC originally pitched the program as part of the Universal Service Fund in 2011, noting in a report a year earlier that approximately 14 million people did not have access to broadband. The Connect America Fund aimed to use a portion of customer bills in other areas of the country to build out broadband infrastructure, including cellular data networks in those areas. That would begin with $300 million at the start, and up to $500 million as part of an annual budget. Local carriers went after the plan in court, saying it threatened to eat into the subsidies they receive.

The decision comes as net neutrality in the US faces its biggest threat in years. A set of rules proposed by the FCC earlier this month will either ban or permit paid prioritization of internet traffic. Which of those two options the FCC goes with still depends on a final vote later this year. In the meantime, critics are concerned that the so-called "fast lanes" could hurt consumers and innovation, while some of the companies pushing for those fast lanes say certain online activities could benefit from prioritization.