The new net neutrality rules, passed this year by a divided Federal Communications Commission, are "designed to ensure that cable companies and telecoms deliver the Internet access they have promised," regulators told an appellate court this week.
The FCC makes the statement as part its attempt to convince the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to reject a challenge to the open Internet regulations.
"The openness of the Internet -- the ability of edge providers and consumers to reach each other as they choose -- has sparked tremendous growth in broadband deployment," the FCC says.
But, the agency adds, broadband providers are in a position "to impose restrictions that would undermine substantially the virtuous cycle of innovation and broadband."
In February, the FCC voted 3-2 to reclassify broadband as a utility service and impose several common carrier rules on broadband providers. The order prohibits providers from blocking or throttling service and from charging content companies higher fees for faster delivery.
The regulations also include a "general conduct" standard that broadly bans providers from hindering the ability of Web users and content companies to connect online. The scope of that prohibition remains uncertain; the FCC has said it intends to take a case-by-case approach when evaluating potential violations.
AT&T, CenturyLink and others are asking the D.C. Circuit to vacate the rules. The companies make numerous arguments, including that the "general conduct" rule is too vague.
"Are arrangements akin to toll-free calling -- in which edge providers, such as music-streaming services, foot the bill for their customers’ data usage -- allowed? What about plans with set data-usage allowances? Maybe or maybe not," the companies write in their pitch to the appellate court. "Providers can only guess."
Not surprisingly, the FCC disagrees. The agency says the rule aims to ensure that Internet service providers "do not unreasonably impair" the ability of consumers and Web content companies like Google or Netflix "to reach one another over the broadband network."
The agency also argues that broadband providers can always request an advisory opinion, if they have questions about specific offerings.
A host of outside groups have said they would like to weigh in on the case. Among others, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is siding with the broadband providers, while Web companies including Twitter and Yelp will ask the court to uphold the rules. At least two lawmakers -- Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) -- have said they intend to file their own arguments in favor of the neutrality rules.
The appellate court has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 4.