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U.S. Appeals Court Upholds Net Neutrality Rules in Full

15 Jun, 2016 By: Doug McPherson

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the open internet rules that back the principle of net neutrality – the idea that phone and cable companies should treat all of the traffic on their networks equally with no blocking or slowing their competitors, and no fast lanes for companies that can pay more.

The ruling says the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does have the authority to reclassify broadband internet as a more heavily regulated telecommunications service, similar to traditional telephone companies.

The FCC had lost two previous battles (against Comcast in 2010 and Verizon in 2014) in its bid to hand down net neutrality rules. To make those rules stick, the FCC took the controversial step of classifying broadband as a telecom service rather than an information service. That move prompted lawsuits from internet service providers (ISPs) and trade groups in 2015.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the petition filed by telecom, cable, and wireless industry associations alongside AT&T, CenturyLink, and several smaller providers.

USTelecom argued that its members provide information services like e-mail – when Comcast gives you an Xfinity e-mail address, for example – as well as internet service, so it should be classified as an information service and not be subject to FCC regulation.

But in essence, the court said most consumers rely on their ISPs to access the web, but then largely use third-party services such as Gmail, Netflix, or Spotify – rather than those provided by the likes of AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast. So ISPs are basically providing a telecom service, not an information one.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) is disappointed in the ruling. “While this is unlikely the last step in this decade-long debate over internet regulation, we urge bipartisan leaders in Congress to renew their efforts to craft meaningful legislation that can end ongoing uncertainty, promote network investment, and protect consumers,” NCTA said.

In a statement, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, “Today’s ruling is a victory for consumers and innovators who deserve unfettered access to the entire web, and it ensures the internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression, and economic growth. 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.”

PCWorld reports the appeals court decision is probably not the end of the debate at the FCC and in Congress. Republicans in Congress have unsuccessfully attempted to kill the rules several times and are likely to try again, and the group of broadband carriers and trade groups that filed lawsuits against the FCC are certain to take further legal action.

The appeals court ruling “merely begins the next stage in this decade-long melodrama,” said Berin Szóka, president of free market think tank TechFreedom, which joined the lawsuit against the rules.

TechFreedom and other groups will ask the full appeals court to reject the ruling of the three-judge panel, and they will “press on to the Supreme Court if necessary,” Szóka told PCWorld. That process could take years, he added.

About the Author: Doug McPherson

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