In a landmark victory for the Obama administration and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld regulations that would ensure open Internet policies. This ruling serves as a blow to large broadband companies like AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp, which were among the challengers in the case.
"The open internet rules are here to stay," Pantelis Michalopoulos, the attorney who represented the FCC's interests, wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg after the June 14 ruling. "There is no doubt who is the winner: the open [I]nternet. The gatekeepers may not block or throttle our information. They may not ask information to pay tolls.”
Open Internet policies prevent broadband companies from offering faster service to those willing to pay extra fees. The court's ruling also allows the FCC to continue regulating broadband providers.
The broadband industry argued that it could prioritize content or service to certain users, as it is an "information service" and not a "telecommunications service," which is subject to stricter regulations in order to protect the First Amendment rights of users. However, the court disagreed with this argument, noting that information services are defined as "services ... provided 'via telecommunications,'" Ars Technica notes.
Net neutrality ensures that Internet service providers, like other telecommunications service companies, are to remain neutral; their purpose is to only provide a platform for users to convey information or to express their opinion. Thus the broadband companies cannot block, throttle or engage in paid prioritization. As written in the decision released by the U.S. Court of Appeals, rules of free speech do not apply to service providers because "a broadband provider does not — and is not understood by users to — 'speak' when providing neutral access to Internet content."
AT&T announced plans to challenge this decision, taking the case all the way 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, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President, wrote in an e-mailed statement.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler led the fight against the broadband industry and said in a statement that the 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."
While President Barack Obama has backed the decision, both the broadband industry and Republicans have fought against the regulations, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz calling net neutrality rules "Obamacare for the Internet," Politico notes.