U.S. Appeals Court Deals Blow to Net Neutrality Proponents, Renders FCC's Rules Invalid

Paul Lilly

Court says FCC lacks authority to impose net neutrality rules on ISPs

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia pulled the rug out from under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by ruling on Verizon v. FCC that the agency doesn't have the legal power to impose net neutrality laws on Internet Service Providers (ISPs). What this ultimately means is that ISPs are free to allow certain types of Internet traffic run faster than others or even block services altogether rather than treating it all the same.

If you have the time or inclination, the 81-page ruling can be found in its entirety on Scribd.com, but to the point, Judge David Tatel said that ISPs aren't classified as "common carriers," therefore they're not subject to same rules and regulations that the telecommunications industry must follow.

Proponents of net neutrality fear that ISPs will abuse their power to treat Internet traffic different, and indeed Judge Tatel voiced his own concerns.

"In support of its conclusion that broadband providers could and would act to limit Internet openness, the Commission pointed to four prior instances in which they had done just that. These involved a mobile broadband provider blocking online payment services after entering into a contract with a competing service; a mobile broadband provider restricting the availability of competing VoIP and streaming video services; a fixed broadband provider blocking VoIP applications; and, of course, Comcast’s impairment of peer-to-peer file sharing that was the subject of the Comcast Order," Judge Tatel wrote.

Be that as it may, the rules were written specifically for common carriers and not ISPs. That said, the court did agree that the FCC should hold some authority to regulate service providers. In addition, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said this isn't over, vowing to "consider all available options, including those for appeal."

Image Credit: Flickr (martinbowling)

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