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FCC delays meeting, looks to deregulate DSL broadband

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Federal Communications Commission delayed its monthly meeting as its chairman worked Wednesday to build support for relaxing rules governing high-speed Internet services offered by phone companies.

The meeting, scheduled for Thursday, was pushed back to Friday.

Two sources close to the issue, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing negotiations, said Republican Chairman Kevin Martin was attempting to get at least one of the FCC's two Democrats to join him and the panel's other Republican, Kathleen Abernathy. The fifth spot on the commission remains unfilled.

In an effort to spur broadband growth, Martin has proposed lifting the rules, which would mean phone companies delivering Internet access via digital subscriber lines, or DSL, would no longer be required to lease access of their networks to competitors at steep discounts.

The move follows a Supreme Court ruling in June that upheld the FCC's authority to free cable companies offering broadband from the same regulation the phone companies have faced.

After the high court ruling, the telephone industry argued it was at a competitive disadvantage and should be treated the same as the cable companies.

Martin hopes deregulation will give the phone companies an incentive to build out their networks, furthering broadband access _ his top priority. It's also a priority for the Bush administration, which has set a goal of affordable access to high-speed Internet by 2007.

In 2004, high-speed lines serving residential customers and businesses increased by 34 percent over the previous year, to 37.9 million subscribers, according to the FCC. Fifty-six percent of users had a cable broadband connection, compared with 36 percent for DSL.

One government source said the commissioners are trying to negotiate social policy issues related to lifting the rules and how they might affect disability rights and contributions to the Universal Service Fund, which subsidies phone and Internet services in rural areas.
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