Court Upholds FCC On Net Neutrality, But…
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission could dump rules that keep internet providers from favoring some services over others, but couldn’t bar states like California from enacting their own prohibitions, a federal court ruled.
While Tuesday’s ruling handed Trump-appointed regulators a partial victory, consumer advocates and other groups viewed the ruling as a victory for states and local governments seeking to put in their own net neutrality rules.
The FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules had barred internet providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from blocking, slowing down or charging internet companies to favor some sites or apps over others.
After the FCC repealed the rules, phone and cable companies are permitted to slow down or block services they don’t like or happen to be in competition with. Companies could also charge higher fees of rivals and make them pay for higher transmission speeds.
Such things have happened before. In 2007, for example, The Associated Press found that Comcast was blocking or throttling some file-sharing. And AT&T blocked Skype and other internet calling services on the iPhone until 2009.
The court now says that’s all permissible — as long as companies disclose it.
But in Tuesday’s decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the FCC failed to show legal authority to bar states from imposing any rules that the agency repealed or that are stricter than its own.
“This ruling empowers states to move forward in the absence of a federal approach to consumer protections,” said Lisa Hayes, co-CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology.
States already have come up with their own net neutrality laws, including one in California that was put on hold until Tuesday’s court decision. Congressional Democrats have attempted, unsuccessfully, to reverse the FCC’s repeal.
The federal court directed the FCC to rework its order to include the impact of its repeal on public safety. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency will address the “narrow issues” cited by the court.
“Today’s decision is a victory for consumers, broadband deployment, and the free and open internet,” Pai said in a statement. He maintained that speeds for consumers have increased by 40% since the agency’s 2017 repeal “and millions more Americans have gained access to the internet.”
Net neutrality has evolved from a technical concept into a politically charged issue, the focus of street and online protests and a campaign issue lobbed against Republicans and the Trump administration.
The FCC has long mulled over how to enforce it. The agency had twice lost in court over net-neutrality standards before a Democrat-led commission in 2015 voted in a regime that made internet service a utility, bringing phone and cable companies under stricter oversight. An appeals court sanctioned the 2015 rules.
After the 2016 election, President Donald Trump appointed a more industry-friendly FCC chairman. Pai repealed the net neutrality rules in 2017, saying they had undermined investment in broadband networks.
Court Upholds FCC On Net Neutrality
The 2-1 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is a win for the Obama administration, the FCC, consumer groups and content companies such as Netflix that want to prevent online content from being blocked or channeled into fast and slow lanes.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the government’s “net neutrality” rules that require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally.
The 2-1 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is a win for the Obama administration, consumer groups and content companies such as Netflix that want to prevent online content from being blocked or channeled into fast and slow lanes.
The rules treat broadband service like a public utility and prevent internet service providers from offering preferential treatment to sites that pay for faster service.
The Federal Communications Commission argued that the rules are crucial for allowing customers to go anywhere on the internet without a provider favoring its own service over that of other competitors. The FCC’s move to reclassify broadband came after President Barack Obama publicly urged the commission to protect consumers by regulating internet service as it does other public utilities.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler commented on the decision: “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. 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.”
Cable and telecom opponents argue the new rules will prevent them from recovering costs for connecting to broadband hogs like Netflix that generate a huge amount of internet traffic. Providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T say the rules threaten innovation and undermine investment in broadband infrastructure.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association released this statement: “We are reviewing today’s split decision by the DC circuit panel, and will carefully review the majority and dissenting opinions before determining next steps. 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.”
But Judges David Tatel and Sri Srinivasan denied all challenges to the new rules, including claims that the FCC could not reclassify mobile broadband as a common carrier. That extends the reach of the new rules as more people view content on mobile devices.
Judge Stephen Williams dissented in part and said he would have struck down the rules.
The industry had argued that broadband was an information service, and the FCC didn’t have the authority to change in which camp it fell. But the court ruled that the FCC was justified in reclassifying broadband as a telecom utility because consumers see broadband as a pipe for internet service and use it mostly to get to websites and apps.
The same appeals court previously had struck down the FCC’s efforts to enforce net neutrality twice before. The latest decision is expected to be appealed.
Associated Press writer Tali Arbel reported from New York.