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Regulatory News Update

The Supreme Court has ruled that an assembly line worker with carpal tunnel syndrome is not entitled to special treatment on the job. The unanimous ruling narrows the board terms of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which obligates employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled workers.

The decision held that the partial disability of Ella Williams, who worked for six years at the Toyota plant in Kentucky, did not require her employer to tailor a job to suit her wrist, arm and shoulder problems.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups backed Toyota, while several civil rights, legal and labor interest supported Williams.

A Toyota spokesman praised the justices for reversing a lower court ruling that "threatened to turn every workplace injury into an ADA case."

In a big win for the cable industry, the Supreme Court has ruled that the FCC can regulate rates cable companies pay for high-speed Internet lines. The ruling could increase the availability and hold down the cost of online services. Cable companies pay utilities to attach wires for Internet services to utilities' street poles.

A federal appeals panel had ruled that the FCC did not have authority to regulate pole rental rates for such services. The Supreme Court reversed that decision.

Cable industry spokesman Dan Brenner says the decision "overcomes a potential impediment to broadband deployment, especially in rural areas."

Boeing has been granted an FCC license to launch a service that will bring the Internet to in-flight commercial and private airplane passengers.

The license--the first of its kind in the broadband satellite services industry--will enable aircraft operators to offer high-speed access to the Internet, intranets, television and e-mail above U.S. territory and waters.

Boeing's new Connexion system will let passengers transmit and receive broadband data.

Connexion President Scott Carson hailed the FCC decision, saying: "For the first time in history, air travelers will be able to experience real-time, in-flight connectivity comparable to the speeds and quality of service they expect on the ground."

A federal judge has temporarily halted an administration plan to reshuffle the office of the EPA's hazardous waste ombudsman. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Roberts issued a temporary restraining order against the move-until a full hearing can be scheduled. The order remains in effect until February 26. The ombudsman, Robert Martin, wants the court to block EPA Administrator Christie Whitman from moving his office to the agency's Inspector General's Office.

Martin contends the move would weaken his independence within the agency.

An EPA spokesman expresses confidence that, "on the merits, the court will find the claims unfounded."

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has picked Qwest Communications Chairman Joseph Nacchio to chair the next term of the Network Reliability and Interoperability Council.

The council develops recommendations for the agency, and for the telecommunications industry, to assure what the FCC calls "optimal reliability, security, interoperability and interconnectivity of, and accessibility to, public telecommunications networks and the Internet."

By Don Fulsom, former UPI White House reporter.