Net Neutrality Rules Gutted By Appeals Court

A federal appellate court on Tuesday gutted the Federal Communications Commission's 2010 Net neutrality regulations, which prohibit broadband providers from blocking lawful content and services.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its opinion that the open Internet regulations violate the Communications Act by effectively imposing common carrier requirements on broadband providers. The FCC can't treat broadband companies as common carriers because the agency classifies broadband as an “information” service and not a “telecommunications” service, the appellate court said in its opinion.

“We think it obvious that the Commission would violate the Communications Act were it to regulate broadband providers as common carriers,” the appellate panel wrote.

In the 1990s, when most people accessed the Web through dial-up services, the FCC classified Internet service as a telecommunications service. But the agency issued a series of rulings in the early 2000s that re-categorized broadband as an information service.

The now-invalid regulations banned all broadband providers -- wireline as well as wireless -- from blocking sites or competing applications. The regulations also prohibited wireline providers from engaging in unreasonable discrimination. A divided FCC passed the regulations by a 3-2 vote in December of 2010, but they didn't take effect until 2011.

Verizon challenged the rules in court, arguing that the FCC exceeded its authority by attempting to regulate broadband. The appeals court rejected Verizon's position that the FCC lacked all authority over broadband; the court upheld a portion of the neutrality rules that require broadband providers to disclose their traffic management practices. But the court agreed with the telecom on the key issue -- that the FCC's anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules are unlawful.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement that the agency is considering its options. “I am committed to maintaining our networks as engines for economic growth, test beds for innovative services and products, and channels for all forms of speech protected by the First Amendment,” Wheeler stated. “We will consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans.”

Given that the court's opinion hinges on the FCC's decision about how to classify broadband, some neutrality advocates are already calling on the agency to reclassify Internet access as a telecommunications service.

"People depend on the Open Internet to connect and communicate with each other freely,” former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps stated. “Voters need it to inform themselves before casting ballots. Without prompt corrective action by the Commission to reclassify broadband, this awful ruling will serve as a sorry memorial to the corporate abrogation of free speech," added Copps, who serves as an adviser to Common Cause.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), also a longtime Net neutrality proponent, said on Tuesday that he plans to introduce legislation aimed at prohibiting Internet service providers from blocking content and services. “We must ensure that as the Internet continues to evolve, it remains a level playing field guided by the principles of openness and competition,” he stated.

The industry group CTIA-The Wireless Association said that Tuesday's ruling “does nothing to temper CTIA members’ long-standing commitment to an open Internet and a vibrant wireless ecosystem because that’s what wireless customers demand.”

The organization added that policymakers “should exercise caution before adding any additional regulation to this area, particularly given the fundamental technical and operational challenges facing mobile broadband providers and the robust competition to attract and retain customers.”
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3 comments about "Net Neutrality Rules Gutted By Appeals Court".
  1. Paul Robinson from Viridian Development Corporation , January 14, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.
    I have no problem if Internet providers want to let some companies pay extra for things like, in effect, "toll free data" in which they pay to not have the data used count against customer caps or to get something extra, as long as they don't prohibit or stop other services including ones that compete with them. If I want to use Magic Jack or Vonage for phone service, Verizon and Comcast should not be allowed to restrict, impede or prevent their use. If YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix want to be able to stream TV to me and are willing to pay so it doesn't count against my cap, I have no problem with that as long as the ISPs don't prevent me from going anywhere or throttling any service whatsoever (which some have done, then lied about it until caught with their hand in the cookie jar.)
  2. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network , January 14, 2014 at 5:56 p.m.
    Paul: How many large corporations can be counted-on to "do the right thing" without regulations and laws compelling them to do so? And the situation has been made worse by mergers and acquisitions whittling-down the number of providers that are necessary for healthy competition, leaving the few that are left with the power to get away with just about anything that's not strictly regulated. "Give them an inch", ... etc.
  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , January 15, 2014 at 10:17 a.m.
    We are well on our way to being controlled. You give them all of your information since your life is worthless anyway and then the giant conglomerate gives you what they tell you what you want to see, go, believe, buy, live. No controls and regulation allow the giant to take over ruling the countries. It's not a party; it's an absolute control from one entity and its representative. Who needs regulation when you can be controlled by the indentured servitude following the supreme ? Casandra has left the room.