Federal Court Upholds Net Neutrality Rules

| by Ray Brown
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Net neutrality advocates scored a big win after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the FCC's Open Internet Order.

The FCC has been fighting internet companies for the right to regulate the internet more like a public utility, which would require internet service providers to treat traffic on the network equally, according to NPR. That would mean they can't block or slow down competitors and would be unable to create “fast lanes” for certain companies to have access to after paying a fee.

The court's ruling fully supports the FCC's arguments, reported Techdirt, including the FCC's decision to classify internet providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act, which solidifies the FCC's authority to create more pro-consumer initiatives such as the exploration of basic new privacy protections for broadband users.

Internet service providers argued that restricting them would be a violation of their First Amendment rights, but the court didn't accept that logic.

"Because a broadband provider does not— and is not understood by users to—“speak” when providing neutral access to internet content as common carriage, the First Amendment poses no bar to the open internet rules,” the court ruled.

The court also said that internet companies, many of which also provide cable services, should be regulated because of their ability to edge out competitors that provide similar content services, such as Netflix and Hulu, which compete with cable companies for viewers.

The court wrote:

We also determined that the Commission had adequately supported and explained its conclusion that, absent rules such as those set forth in the [2010 Open Internet Order], broadband providers represent[ed] a threat to Internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment. For example, the Commission noted that 'broadband providers like AT&T and Time Warner have acknowledged that online video aggregators such as Netflix and Hulu compete directly with their own core video subscription service,' and that, even absent direct competition, '[b]roadband providers ... have powerful incentives to accept fees from edge providers, either in return for excluding their competitors or for granting them prioritized access to end users.'

In a statement, FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel praised the court's decision:

Our Internet economy is the envy of the world. We invented it. The applications economy began here—on our shores. The broadband below us and the airwaves all around us deliver its collective might to our homes and businesses in communities across the country. What produced this dynamic engine of entrepreneurship and experimentation is a foundation of openness. Sustaining what has made us innovative, fierce, and creative should not be a choice—it should be an obligation.

Sources: NPR, TechDirt, FCC / Photo credit: Ammodramus/Wikimedia Commons

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