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FCC lacked authority to impose ‘Net neutrality’ on broadband carriers, federal appeals court rules

Posted Jan 14, 2014 3:55 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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In a victory for Verizon Communications Inc., a federal appeals court has ruled that a government agency does not have the power to require broadband carriers to comply with so-called Net neutrality regulations concerning Internet traffic.

Having opted "to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers" under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Federal Communications Commission can't impose "open Internet" rules on them even though the FCC has the power to regulate common carriers in this manner under the statute, explains the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a Tuesday written opinion (PDF). The Threat Level blog of Wired provides a copy of the decision.

While the appeals court ruling leaves some of the existing FCC regulations in place, it largely eliminates requirements that broadband carriers give equal treatment to all Internet traffic that passes through their communications networks. That potentially opens the door to carriers blocking certain traffic considered to be objectionable and charging some users higher fees than others for priority service, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Tom Wheeler, who serves as chairman of the FCC, said he will consider all options, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"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," he said in a statement provided to the Hill's Hillicon Valley blog.

Other options would be to ask the D.C. Circuit to reconsider today's decision en banc or to rewrite the regulations to comply with the court's order.

Randall Milch, the company's executive vice president of public policy, said the company remains committed "to the open Internet which provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content.”

Milch praised the court's decision and said it "will allow more room for innovation, and consumers will have more choices to determine for themselves how they access and experience the Internet."

Bloomberg, the New York Times (reg. req.), the Tech Chronicles page of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Switch page of the Washington Post (reg. req.) also have stories.

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