Appeals Court upholds FCC net neutrality regulations, rejecting arguments from telecom, cable and wireless companies
Ruling is seen as a victory for consumers, as well as many news organizations fearful the telecoms would want to create tiered services that could put them at a disadvantage online
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today upheld so-called net neutrality regulations, essentially ruling that the Internet is a utility, “the principle that broadband providers must treat all internet traffic the same regardless of source,” as the court described it.
The court said this was the third time it had addressed the issue: the first time ruling that the Federal Communications Commission did not have the authority to regulate Internet services, but then following the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 stating in Verizon v. FCC that they now did have that authority, but still vacating the anti-blocking and anti-discrimination provisions because the FCC had chosen to classify broadband service as an information service.
Today, in its third ruling, the court rejected the petition filed by telecommunications and cable companies, along with wireless industry associations, which argued that the FCC “lacks statutory authority to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service.”
Instead, the court ruled that broadband providers are like telephone providers, in that they are to act as “neutral” platforms.
“In contrast to newspapers and cable companies, the exercise of editorial discretion is entirely absent with respect to broadband providers subject to the Order,” the court said. “Unlike with the printed page and cable technology, broadband providers face no such constraints limiting the range of potential content they can make available to subscribers. Broadband providers thus are not required to make, nor have they traditionally made, editorial decisions about which speech to transmit. In that regard, the role of broadband providers is analogous to that of telephone companies: they act as neutral, indiscriminate platforms for transmission of speech of any and all users.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler applauded the court’s ruling.
“After a decade of debate and legal battles, today’s ruling affirms the Commission’s ability to enforce the strongest possible internet protections — both on fixed and mobile networks — that will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future,” Wheeler said in a statement.
The ruling will come as a relief to many news organizations that fear that broadband providers might create tiered services that favor their own media properties (Comcast, for instance, owns NBCUniversal) over that of newspapers, magazines and other media entities.
Now the case will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, but because the court is currently split four-four, as the GOP controlled Senate continues to refuse to schedule hearings for a new justice, it is quite possible that the Supreme Court will decide not to hear the case at this time.