A United States District Court of Appeals has stuck down the underpinnings of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) so-called “net neutrality” rules for Internet service providers, potentially paving the way for stricter regulations intended to ensure that all legal Internet traffic is treated equally.
In a unanimous decision issued on April 6th, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Commission exceeded its statutory authority when it sanctioned Comcast Corporation back in 2008. In that action, the FCC ordered by a 3-2 vote that Comcast cease its efforts to slow broadband throughput rates for customers who were downloading large data files from peer-to-peer sharing services.
The Court, in overturning the Commission’s action against Comcast, ruled that Congress had not accorded the FCC the power to regulate the network management practices of Internet service providers.
In a statement following the Court’s ruling, the FCC agreed that “today’s Court decision invalidated the prior Commission’s approach to preserving an open Internet.” However, the statement continued, “the Court in no way disagreed with the importance of preserving a free and open Internet; nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end.”
One possible method would be for the FCC to revise its definition of broadband Internet access from an “information” service to a “communications” service, thereby subjecting Internet service providers to the same regulatory oversight as phone companies. Such an action would, no doubt, prompt legal challenges from Internet service providers.
A separate option would be for Congress to pass legislation empowering the FCC to regulate Internet service providers.
Read complete text of the Court’s ruling against the FCC’s net neutrality rules.