Net Neutrality Rules Upheld By Appeals Court

by @wendyndavis, June 14, 2016

A federal appellate court in Washington, D.C. upheld the net neutrality rules today by a 2-1 vote.

The rules, passed last year by the Federal Communications Commission, reclassified broadband access as a “telecommunications” service and imposed common-carrier obligations on broadband providers. The regulations prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or degrading traffic, and from engaging in paid prioritization. The FCC also broadly banned providers from hindering Web users and content companies from connecting with each other online — although the scope of that prohibition remains uncertain.

A coalition of Internet service providers and trade groups — includingUS Telecom Association, CTIA-The Wireless Association, Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, the American Cable Association, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, AT&T and CenturyLink — challenged the rules in court.

They raised a host of arguments, including that the FCC lacked authority to reclassify broadband service as a utility. In a 115-page opinion, a majority of the appellate panel rejected those contentions.

“Petitioners assert numerous challenges to the Commission’s decision to reclassify broadband. Finding that none has merit, we uphold the classification,” the majority opinion reads.

Among other arguments, US Telecom said that broadband should be considered an “information” service, as opposed to a common-carrier service, because many broadband providers provide email and other “information” services.

But Circuit Court Judges David Tatel and Sri Srinivasan rejected that argument, pointing to the FCC’s conclusion that broadband access is independent from the information services that are also offered by ISPs.

“US Telecom nowhere challenges that conclusion, and for good reason: the record contains extensive evidence that consumers perceive a standalone offering of transmission, separate from the offering of information services like email and cloud storage,” Tatel and Srinivasan wrote.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the ruling “a victory for consumers and innovators who deserve unfettered access to the entire web,” adding that the decision “ensures the internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth.”

For its part, AT&T vowed to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. “We have always expected this issue to be decided by the Supreme Court, and we look forward to participating in that appeal,” David McAtee, senior executive vide president and general counsel wrote on the company blog.

 

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