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Court Upholds Net Neutrality Rules, Now FCC Must Enforce Them

Washington, D.C. Appeals Court upheld FCC’s “Open Internet Order” rules, also called the net neutrality rules, which the agency passed last year with much support from the public.

As soon as the net neutrality rules passed last year, AT&T, the U.S. Telecom Association, and other broadband provider advocacy groups sued the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over these new rules, hoping to invalidate them. However, in a 2-1 decision, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ended up supporting the FCC’s new rules across the board, including the agency’s decision to classify internet providers as “common carriers" under Title II of the Communications Act.

The "common carriers" bit means that the FCC will now have even more flexibility to impose new regulations on internet providers to ensure that they aren't taking advantage of their customers. It can also help with new privacy framework that the FCC has been planning to pass.

Previously, the courts denied the FCC permission to impose certain regulations on broadband providers because the FCC didn’t have the statutory authority to do so after classifying them as “information services” under the Communications Act of 1934.

According to the court, this meant that the FCC had no authority to impose anti-blocking and anti-discrimination requirements on the broadband providers. However, under the new net neutrality rules, the FCC reclassified the broadband providers as “common carriers,” which means the agency now has the necessary authority to regulate internet providers over blocking and discriminatory practices.

One of the ways in which the ISPs challenged the FCC’s rules is by citing First Amendment rights. The Court rejected this theory, saying that normally, customers don’t think of their ISPs are “speaking” themselves when they use their service.

"Because a broadband provider does not--and is not understood by users to--'speak' when providing neutral access to internet content as common carriage, the First Amendment poses no bar to the open internet rules," said the court.

The Court also recognized that without such rules, and given the context that ISPs don’t have much competition either locally or nationally, they could use their power to force edge providers such as Netflix or the New York Times to pay for access to their customers or for granting them “prioritized access.”

The prioritized access has been one of the main issues with the lack of net neutrality rules, because it could also eliminate competition among edge providers. Netflix, YouTube or Facebook may have enough money to pay the broadband providers whatever fees they may request, but other new competing startups may not.

That means that in the long term, internet users would have limited choice not just in broadband providers, but also in edge providers, which could perpetuate the dominance of these services through such partnerships with the broadband providers.

Zero rating is tied to prioritized access because it could also be used in the same way to discriminate against certain web services providers. However, the FCC doesn’t even address this in its Open Internet Order, because at the time it thought the issue was still controversial and it didn’t want to outright ban it.

As for the other rules, it’s now up to the FCC to properly enforce them. The new ruling by the D.C. Appeals Court should provide some clarity for how both the FCC and the broadband providers should proceed. However, it’s likely that the broadband providers that have already sued the FCC will try to get this case to the Supreme Court.

Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu. 

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  • Kimonajane
    Whats not in there is the rules they passed that allow the fascist FED to more easily snoop in you too.
    Reply
  • targetdrone
    So what does this mean for things like T-mobile's Binge-on?
    Reply
  • kiniku
    Just what we need, more government controlling more of the private sector. I'm sure my bill will go down now.
    Reply
  • littleleo
    So the ISP can't as easily rape us as they wanted too. When I 1st got a packaged deal for cable TV, Internet & phone it was under $100. Plus I had # DVRs. Even though I had signed up for service for a year after 3 months the price would go up. I'd call them and complain that I had the price for a year. And of course they would say "Oh there was a special promo that ended so you price has to go up. So I've cut off my phone service from them, returned all the DVRs and cut back on the TV to the minimum. And I'm still paying more. Now I can complain to the FCC about these practices before they couldn't help now at least i have an ear I can complain in.
    Reply
  • memadmax
    "So what does this mean for things like T-mobile's Binge-on?"

    It means its done.
    Reply
  • memadmax
    Be careful what you wish for.

    Here's a dude that explains it pretty good:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWrI9aKQ-A8
    Reply
  • targetdrone
    18122046 said:
    Just what we need, more government controlling more of the private sector. I'm sure my bill will go down now.

    The problem is Telecommunications is far from private sector. The Cartel(Time Warner, Comcast, Verizon, Cox, ect) gets money, tax breaks, and subsidies left and right by state and local governments and yet our bills keep going up and up every year. The make matters even worse The Cartel colludes with local governments to create monopolies by baring any competitor from entering the market

    In rare cases when localities had enough crap from The Cartel and tried setting up a local ISP or partner with alternatives such as Google Fiber The Cartel sues the city in state court and buys state lawmakers to prevent the weakening of the The Cartels grip on telco services.

    It's hard to let the market decide when the only show in town refuses to sell you seats then sues you when you start building your own or buy some off the Amish.
    Reply
  • house70
    Good news, everyone!
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    18122142 said:
    "So what does this mean for things like T-mobile's Binge-on?"

    It means its done.
    There are provisions in the FCC's neutrality rules to allow paid, zero-rated and direct transit traffic. The main thing the neutrality and common carrier rules do is giving service providers a somewhat more even playing field to lessen the likelihood and severity of network capacity standoffs like the Netflix vs L3/Cogent vs Comcast/AT&T cases from two years ago.
    Reply
  • gangrel
    When you're talking internet providers who are also TV providers, IMO the major factor in rates is the rights being charged by the content originators...especially sports rights. Wikipedia says that the NFL TV rights are costing ESPN, CBS, NBC, and Fox about $4 billion *per year*...just shy of $40B for 2014-2022. Some of this comes back, of course, from ad revenues...but I have to believe another chunk comes back from Time Warner, DirecTV, and Comcast. Plus: there have been, I think, 2 periods where my local ABC affiliate got into a spat with DirecTV over rebroadcast fees, in the last 3 or 4 years. I'm pretty sure that local network affiliate viewing rates are down...how far, I don't know...which means local stations' ad rates and incomes are down. This leads credence to them trying to squeeze the cable and satellite packages.
    Reply