For the first time in history the Federal Communications Commission’s controversial Net Neutrality regulations have withstood an attack, as a panel of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit yesterday voted 2-1 in favour of upholding rules, maintaining the FCC’s legal oversight and regulation of both wired and wireless broadband service.
The win constitutes a landmark decision for the FCC and the Obama administration, whose combined efforts to regulate the broadband industry were upheld and the FCC’s authority to regulate the industry was fully maintained.
The appeals court majority rejected the onslaught of challenges presented by the telecommunication industry, as lawsuits were levied against the rules almost the moment they were announced, a significant achievement given the fact that the same appeals court had twice rejected the FCC’s earlier efforts to impose different incarnations of its Net Neutrality rules.
The rules have long sought to establish and protect an open Internet for all, barring broadband service providers from a host of dubious network management practices. While having faced defeat numerous times before, at the hands of the same appeals court no less, the FCC took a different route last year when it reclassified broadband service as a public utility, with an aim to “protect free expression and innovation on the Internet and promote investment in the nation’s broadband networks. The Open Internet rules are grounded in the strongest possible legal foundation … As part of this decision, the [FCC] also refrains (or forbears) from enforcing provisions of Title II that are not relevant to modern broadband service.”
As expected, the broadband industry was not pleased. In fact, a telecom industry consortium, The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, spared no expense in railing against the decision, saying in its initial legal challenge that, “These rules will undermine future investment by large and small broadband providers, to the detriment of consumers.” Unfortunately, even with the appeals court decision, the NCTA is unlikely to stop its work to curb Net Neutrality.
“We are reviewing today’s split decision by the D.C. circuit panel and will carefully review the majority and dissenting opinions before determining next steps,” the NCTA said in a statement. “While this is unlikely the last step in this decade-long debate over internet regulation, we urge bipartisan leaders in Congress to renew their efforts to craft meaningful legislation that can end ongoing uncertainty, promote network investment and protect consumers.”
That said, it had appeared over the last several months that the mood regarding Net Neutrality was beginning to soften, as it seemed adherence to the regulations was something service providers thought they could curate, or perhaps even use as a bargaining chip in other FCC negotiations. Although one could argue that the changing moods were likely a result of the realization that the FCC was going to win this round.
“Today’s 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,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement on today’s ruling. “After a decade of debate and legal battles, today’s ruling affirms the commission’s ability to enforce the strongest possible internet protections – both on fixed and mobile networks – that will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future.”
While I’ll say again that this is the first landmark victory for the FCC’s laudable Net Neutrality regulations, it still seems far from the end, as opponents still have the option of appealing the decision in the Supreme Court.