Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Appeals court backs FCC's internet neutrality rules

Supporters of internet neutrality—which is expected to help rural areas that lack broadband—earned a huge victory Tuesday. The federal appeals court for the District of Columbia, by a 2-1 decision, dismissed arguments from telecom giants such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast "that the Federal Communications Commission exceeded its authority in approving regulations last year," Jim Puzzanghera reports for the Los Angeles Times. The FCC rules were designed to prevent dominant broadband suppliers from abusing their market power.

"FCC was responding to fears that broadband providers might charge more money for faster delivery of content passing through their networks to Americans’ computers or mobile devices, or block or slow competitors’ content. Broadband companies denied that they had such plans," Puzzanghera writes. "In addition to prohibiting those practices, the court ruling cleared the way for other uses of the FCC’s expanded authority. The agency has proposed limits on how internet service providers use the vast and potentially lucrative trove of information they have about their customers and possible restrictions on so-called zero-rating plans that exempt some streaming content from wireless data caps."

AT&T said it would appeal the decision, with attorney David McAtee saying they expect the issue to be decided by the Supreme Court, Puzzanghera writes. "Republican lawmakers promised to try to overturn the FCC's actions with legislation, which could be successful if they make gains in November’s election and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump wins the White House."

The decision "affirms Washington's ability to regulate Internet providers like legacy telephone companies," Brian Fung reports for The Washington Post. "Approved in a bitterly partisan vote last year, the move by the FCC to 'reclassify' internet providers significantly expanded the agency's role in overseeing the industry. It opened up Internet providers to all-new obligations they were not subject to before, such as privacy requirements that all telecom companies currently follow in order to protect consumers' personal data."

"The court verdict puts to rest—for now—a key question: Whether the internet represents a vital communications platform that deserves to be regulated with the same scrutiny as the common networks of the past, such as the telephone system," Fung writes. "Writing for the court, Judges David Tatel and Sri Srinivasan held that despite advances in technology, the underlying importance of the Internet to everyday communications and commerce makes it more similar to the phone system than not. The court's lone dissenting voter, Judge Stephen Williams, said that while he agreed that the FCC could legally classify broadband companies as telecommunications carriers, the agency did not do enough to prove that today's information ecosystem has changed sufficiently to justify the move."

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