The Federal Appeals Court for Washington, DC has completely upheld the legal authority related to the FCC’s Open Internet rules or net neutrality – in a major setback to telecoms such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, etc.
The main benefit will be to video streaming companies such as Netflix because they rely on big network operators to reach out to their rapidly growing customer base.
The US court confronted several legal hurdles but refuted the efforts made by broadband providers like Comcast, AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon Communications alongside a range of nonprofits, and trade groups like the U.S. Telecom Association, Alamo Broadband and TechFreedom.
The decision passed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the massive classification of broadband providers to be coined as public utilities as per the FCC rules voted on in 2015. This classification has been a segment of the “Open Internet Order” which was approved by the commission last year.
The decision came as a major victory for the Obama administration, the supportive consumer groups and content companies which were in the favor of ending the practice of blocking or channeling online content and diminishing the divide between fast and slow lanes.
The ruling can still be appealed to the Supreme Court and the move is expected soon from the industry. The FCC has conveyed that the decision is a “victory for consumers and innovators who deserve unfettered access to the entire web.”
The lawsuit which ensued after the revelation of the Open Internet Order, confronted the FCC of its right to classify internet providers as common carriers under Title II. It also confronted the authority of the FCC to group wired and wireless services under the same set of rules and claimed that the regulation will stifle innovation and raise prices for consumers.
“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,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement.
The FCC had incorporated a set of principles for an open Internet in 2005 but about three years after the adoption, the agency tried to reprimand Comcast for violating those principles but the federal court ruled against its authority to take such a course of action.
As a result, the agency then came up with its first group of Net neutrality regulations in 2010, which led to Verizon filing against these rules in court with the court again raising questions on the legal authority of the commission in 2014. FCC then came up with a new version of rules in 2015 which led to massive public debate over the topic of Net neutrality. The broadband and wireless industries also sued the government again emphasising that the commission did not have the authority to reclassify broadband.
Hence, this is the third attempt from FCC to regulate Internet service providers in the time span of a decade, after back to back failures in the past two efforts. The issue was also of political importance, with the two Republican FCC commissioners moving against the rules and the three Democratic commissioners promoting it.
The appeals court took the commissions side in the 2-1 ruling conveying that the FCC rules came under permissible limits.
The reinstated rules will treat broadband service as a public utility and will prevent the internet service providers from providing preferential treatment to the sites that pay for availing faster service.
It is also worth a mention that zero-rating services like T-Mobile’s BingeOn and Verizon’s Go90 can continue and are approved to remain indifferent to the Open Internet Order.
Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) said that a federal court ruling on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality plans leaves in place inflexible regulations that will harm consumers and the U.S. economy.
TIA CEO Scott Belcher said: “The court’s decision means today’s dynamic, ever-changing Internet will face the strict, inflexible rules designed to regulate our grandparents’ phone service. We continue to believe the FCC has overstepped its authority and we are deeply disappointed by the decision.”