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Will FCC's Net Neutrality Game Plan Help KY?

May 12, 2010

WHITESBURG, Ky. - The war rages on, but a battle has been won by groups pushing to put high-speed Internet service in the hands of more Kentuckians. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says it plans to change how it regulates Internet service, by treating Internet access with some of the same powers it now uses to regulate telephone service.

Mimi Pickering, director of the Appalshop Community Media Initiative, says if the FCC follows through, it could offer real solutions to people who live in parts of Kentucky underserved by Internet providers.

"The maps will say, like in Whitesburg, there is high-speed Internet available. And that is true, but that doesn't mean it's available out in the hollers."

Pickering believes one way to ensure more high-speed Internet access for more people is to establish a fee for Internet use, similar to the fees that users already pay for telephones. It would require changing the current Universal Service Fund to include online access, or setting up a separate fund.

"And that goes to subsidize cost of providing phone service in rural areas. This would be a similar form of that."

For Net Neutrality proponents, she says, the task moving forward is to see that the talk turns to action.

"It's important for us to all be vigilant and watch this, and I think, if the Universal Service Fund goes through, we definitely should see a lowering of cost for basic, high-speed Internet service."

The FCC's move is one way around a recent appellate court decision that said the agency lacks the authority to enforce Net Neutrality, the term for preventing telecom companies from blocking or slowing certain kinds of Internet traffic. Internet providers say the action could limit future investment and innovation.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - KY