Federal Court Strikes Down Net Neutrality Rules, Sides with Big Telecom

A U.S. Appeals Court just invalidated the FCC's net neutrality rules that would've made it illegal for telecom companies to favor certain types of traffic over others. The court ruled that the commission lacked the authority to implement and enforce such rules which were embedded in a complicated legal framework.

The court describes its reasoning in the ruling:

Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such. Because the Commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet Order.

In other words, the FCC didn't have the authority to impose its rules because it defined broadband internet as an information service rather than a common carrier service, like telephones.

This is bad news. The ruling basically opens the door for companies like Verizon and Time Warner to cut special deals with websites to serve up their content faster. It also opens up the possibility of paid access to specific sites. Imagine the worst case scenario, where you literally have to pay an extra fee to get access to the websites you like. It's possible! At least the latest federal court ruling on Verizon's appeal to the FCC states that telecom companies have to tell subscribers which sites they're favoring.

This latest development in the years' long battle to preserve net neutrality is going to piss off a lot of people. And it should. The idea of giving preferential treatment to websites willing to pay for it means that smaller websites stand to lose out, and the very idea of competition on the internet is being essentially undermined since companies can simply buy prime placement. That said, the appeals court ruling is being largely viewed as a failure on the FCC's part for not writing the rules under a more solid legal framework.

"We're disappointed that the court came to this conclusion," said Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron. "Its ruling means that Internet users will be pitted against the biggest phone and cable companies — and in the absence of any oversight, these companies can now block and discriminate against their customers' communications at will.

At least the FCC's still willing to fight the good fight. Chairman Tom Wheeler released this statement a few minutes after the ruling:

The D.C. Circuit has correctly held that 'Section 706 . . . vests [the Commission] with affirmative authority to enact measures encouraging the deployment of broadband infrastructure' and therefore may 'promulgate rules governing broadband providers' treatment of Internet traffic.' I am committed to maintaining our networks as engines for economic growth, test beds for innovative services and products, and channels for all forms of speech protected by the First Amendment. We will consider all available
options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans.

Update: The White House chimed in with its own statement on Tuesday afternoon:

President Obama remains committed to an open internet, where consumers are free to choose the websites they want to visit and the online services they want to use, and where online innovators are allowed to compete on a level playing field based on the quality of their products.

As we continue to review the ruling, we remain committed to working with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Congress, and the private sector to preserve a free and open Internet.

Read the full ruling below.

DC Net Neutrality ruling by jeff_roberts881