The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia handed the FCC a major win on Tuesday when it ruled to uphold net neutrality rules passed by the FCC last year.
The open internet rules, which went into effect June 12 after the court rejected a request for a stay, mandate all internet traffic be treated equally, preventing providers from slowing or blocking content. The rules also give the FCC the power to regulate interconnection agreements that infringe on the flow of content to consumers.
Tuesday’s 2-1 ruling from the three-judge panel also let stand the FCC’s classification of internet service providers (ISPs) as utilities under Title II of the Communications Act.
AT&T, which was among the petitioners in the case, on Tuesday vowed to appeal the decision.
“We have always expected this issue to be decided by the Supreme Court, and we look forward to participating in that appeal,” AT&T Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel David McAtee said in a statement.
According to the court, the challenge to the FCC’s rules came from “three separate groups of petitioners” who argued “Commission lacks statutory authority to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, that even if the Commission has such authority its decision was arbitrary and capricious, that the Commission impermissibly classified mobile broadband as a commercial mobile service, that the Commission impermissibly forbore from certain provisions of Title II, and that some of the rules violate the First Amendment.”
The court, however, said it found “extensive support in the record” to “justify the Commission’s decision to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler hailed the decision as a “victory.”
“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,” Wheeler said in a statement. “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.”
Similarly, Pantelis Michalopoulos, a partner at law firm Steptoe & Johnson who serves as the lawyer for the intervenors, including Netflix, Inc. and Dish Network Corp. celebrated the ruling as a win.
“The third time was the charm. The open internet rules are here to stay,” Michalopoulos said. “This time there is no doubt who is the winner: the open internet. The gatekeepers may not block or throttle our information. They may not ask information to pay tolls. They may do nothing that unreasonably disadvantages users or content providers. And our iPhone is as safe as our PC: wireless internet access providers are subject to the rules too.”
Like AT&T, advocacy group Tech Freedom has also said it plans to appeal the ruling. That appeal will expound upon the arguments supported by Judge Williams in his dissent, Tech Freedom president Berin Szóka said.
Though many focused on the net neutrality aspect of the decision, telecom analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics said it is the Title II element of the ruling that is more important – and insidious.
“Everyone has already agreed to net neutrality, but it’s the vehicle – the draconian style Title II rules – that were in question” Entner said. “Proponents say nothing happened, that net neutrality was upheld, but these rules, these changes are…small and creeping. It’s a continuous erosion of the competitiveness of especially wireless carriers compared to unregulated entities right at a time when the telcos are beginning to compete with them.”
Significantly, Entner said the upholding of its Title II classification of ISPs will allow the FCC to move forward with its proposed privacy rules for ISPs. The telecommunications industry has largely balked at the proposed rules, claiming they single out operators for regulation while leaving Internet companies to collect user information as they please.
The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) said Tuesday the decision means the industry must redouble its efforts to find a policy solution. TIA said it is “committed to working with members of Congress to advance legislation that protects consumers without harming investment and job creation.” The association said it is in favor of a “free market approach, with clearly defined consumer protections.”
“The court’s decision means today’s dynamic, ever-changing Internet will face the strict, inflexible rules designed to regulate our grandparents’ phone service,” TIA said in a statement. “We continue to believe the FCC has overstepped its authority and we are deeply disappointed by the decision.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations