Federal Appeals Court Upholds Net Neutrality Rules

John Lister's picture

An appeals court has upheld rules on net neutrality that stop broadband providers blocking or slowing web traffic. The legal battles will likely continue, but this week's verdict is a big blow to those arguing to block the rules.

Net neutrality is the principle of treating all Internet traffic in the same way with the only exception being illegal content. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has tried several times to bring in rules to enforce the principle, with bans on carriers deliberately slowing or blocking some types of traffic (such as streaming video) or taking payments from Internet sites to give them priority.

Previous attempts to bring in such rules were held up due to legal vernacular. For example, the FCC classed broadband as an information service ("Title 1" in legal speak) - which meant its powers to regulate the Internet were heavily restricted.

Principle and Procedure Both in Question

Last year the FCC decided to reclassify it as a communications service ("Title 2") which means it has more extensive regulatory powers, similar to those which apply to landline telephone services. It then introduced tougher net neutrality rules known as the Open Internet policy, though it said it had no interest in regulating the prices charged to customers.

Several companies in the broadband industry challenged the decision, not only arguing against the net neutrality rules themselves, but also the FCC's power to reclassify broadband. They said using such powers was excessive and reclassification should only be allowed if done by Congress.

The case has now reached a Federal Appeals court, which voted 2-1 to reject the challenge. They said that Internet use was now so widespread and important to daily lives that it was right to treat it in the same way as telephone networks. (Source: nytimes.com)

Supreme Court May Be Final Destination

The companies bringing the case look set to continue their fight. The likely next step would be an "en banc" appeal, which means a fresh hearing with all the appeal court judges in the district making a ruling, rather than just the panel of three. (Source: washingtonpost.com)

At the moment the Supreme Court is split 4-4 on party lines. If the judges voted 4-4 on this case, which is likely, it would uphold the lower court decision. That means its highly unlikely the net neutrality rules will be overturned any time soon.

What's Your Opinion?

Is it right in principle to try to enforce the idea of net neutrality? Should broadband be treated in the same way as phone lines when it comes to regulation? Is this a matter for Congress rather than a government agency?

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Dennis Faas's picture

I agree 100% with this ruling. Having Internet Service Providers charge more for "premium" (streaming) services such as Netflix is just plain wrong. Yes it does take up more bandwidth, but these companies are already charging a fortune for their services each month. Besides that, technology is always evolving - including any infrastructure necessary to keep up with demand.

Some IT Guy's picture

This is a touchy subject, and close to most IT peoples' hearts and wallets.

When you look at it from a customer view, should they be able to charge you based on "premium" content? From a strictly customer view, no, I shouldn't have to pay more for internet service based on content. Its the Internet, access to the WWW, email, FTP, etc. In certain states and companies they are already capping usage, in the same matter as most Cell Phone Carriers. In those instances, they either start charging more per GB, start throttling speed, cut service all together, or a combination. Depending on how you look at it, that is already paying for a "premium" service.

However, many changes in the content world, and changes in the provider world, are going to make regulations punitive. Take for instance HBO GO. This is eventually going to be available across all of the Internet (no need for Apple TV.) You won't need cable any longer to get it. Many Cell Phone providers are making changes like allowing FREE bandwidth for Streaming in particular. You only pay for the Internet usage you use in a traditional way, like downloads or email traffic. Pandora and Netflix are going to be free streaming. So in the end, whatever regulation they create may not even apply to the latest content/usage offering.

And does business really NEED further regulations to jump through? One of the reasons innovation has been so rampant on the Internet is because of the freedom from regulation. Netflix would never have taken off so well on the Internet if we had the tiered, capped bandwidth Europe and England supposedly have. People in NY started legislation when Time Warner Cable threatened to start capping bandwidth. They immediately put that idea aside. Now that they merged with Charter, I wonder what will change?

The only thing I can truthfully say is that I am glad I moved to somewhere I could get CHOICE in High Speed Internet. I currently have Verizon FIOS and love it. Have not went back to TWC since. The only problem is now they are playing the same games that Cable does with their pricing structure, thinking we would never switch back. Further regulations I think will stifle competition, and we need MORE not LESS of that. Too many are held hostage by only have one service provider.

Thanks for this article, and keep up the good work... time to see about my FIOS bill and getting a discount...

matt_2058's picture

The idea of net neutrality is great. I don't know enough about classifications, but since the court sees it like this....

"The case has now reached a Federal Appeals court, which voted 2-1 to reject the challenge. They said that Internet use was now so widespread and important to daily lives that it was right to treat it in the same way as telephone networks"

....Then maybe there should be some pricing oversight. Or at least something in place to maintain a competitive atmosphere between providers. We don't want the 'Too Big To Fail' situation again in any area of service providers.

I think that in the end it will become this giant mess like the IRS Tax Code and its 74,608 pages. After all, this simple single thing loosely called "internet access" allows us to shop anywhere in the world, email instead of mail, talk, get hundreds of TV channels, get an education, do research, be entertained, be monitored by a doctor, etc.

History gives us so many examples of the consequences with a monopoly. US heavy-lift space access headed in that direction, with costs becoming astronomical and it being a single-point risk.