The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has upheld the FCC’s Open Internet order passed last year. It defines internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act, and applies the rules to mobile broadband providers.
As it’s generally explained in the consumer press, the basic premise is that traffic on the networks should be treated equally with no blocking or slow-downs, and no increased speeds for companies if they pay more. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is a huge advocate, as is President Obama. You can read more about the president’s backing here.
Of course, the details are far more complicated than is usually seen in the consumer press, involving the legal classification of broadband and even the First Amendment. The court reports in its decision that “three separate groups of petitioners, consisting primarily of broadband providers and their associations, challenge the order, arguing that the 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 reports it is denying the petitions for review. It says it found support in the record to “justify the Commission’s decision to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service.” Writing the decision were Judges David Tatel and Sri Srinivasan. Judge Stephen Williams contributed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association released a statement that says: “Though disappointed in today’s result, we are particularly gratified by Judge Williams’ recognition of the ‘watery thin and self-contradictory’ nature of the FCC arguments used to justify the imposition of common carriage laws on internet networks. 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.”
AT&T indicates that it had expected the issue would go to a higher court, and reports it will 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 says in a statement.
FCC Chairman Wheeler also responded, calling the decision a win for consumers.
“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,” he says. “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.”
Pantelis Michalopoulos, a partner at the at law firm Steptoe & Johnson that serves as the lawyer for the intervenors including Netflix and Dish Network, took advantage of the news to say “the open Internet rules are here to stay.”
“Often in Washington, it is tough to discern who won or lost. That was the case with the Verizon case in 2014: the court said the FCC had the authority to make open Internet rules, but had to go back to the drawing board,” Michalopoulos says. “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.”
Long-time supporter of the rules Public Knowledge also came out with a supporting statement.
“This decision should lay to rest what has become a needlessly contentious issue. Now consumers will be assured the right to full access to the internet without interference from gatekeepers,” Gene Kimmelman, president and CEO of Public Knowledge, states. “We hope that rather than refight old battles, Congress and the industry will turn toward the problem of ensuring that all Americans have access to broadband that is fast, fair and open.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations