Victory for net neutrality in the US as court upholds FCC decision

14 Jun 2016

A US court has ruled in favour of net neutrality rules for a fair and open internet. The decision is a victory for the Obama administration

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has prevailed in a court battle against the US broadband industry over its net neutrality rules.

A panel of federal judges upheld the FCC’s net neutrality rules and the decision is also being seen as a victory for the Obama administration.

At the core of the issue is ISPs charging internet content companies like Netflix extra fees to ensure quality of service.

Two years ago, President Barack Obama said that net neutrality had been built into the fabric of the internet since its creation and said it was unacceptable for ISPs to pick winners and losers.

‘Now the FCC has clear authority to hold ISPs to these openness rules and turn its attention to policies that support an affordable, faster internet’

The FCC chairman Tom Wheeler last year passed a net neutrality order, the FCC Open Internet Order, which classified ISPs as common carriers.

As such, the rules required internet providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T to treat all content coming across their networks equally.

Various ISPs and telcos and industry organisations filed multiple legal challenges and claimed some of the rules violated the First Amendment.

However, in court today (14 June) in Washington DC, the federal judges decided in favour of upholding net neutrality.

A victory for consumers, but ISPs are seething

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler welcomed the court’s decision: “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.”

The news was also welcomed by online video service Netflix, which has campaigned against the throttling of video content by operators.

“Today’s appeals court decision underscores what’s possible when millions of consumers unite to be heard and government officials listen,” Netflix said in a statement.

“By upholding all parts of the FCC’s net neutrality approach, the appeals court settled two decades of debate and legal uncertainty by ensuring the internet remains open to all. The court went out of its way to define interconnection as a central part of net neutrality, ensuring that providers like Netflix will be able to reach consumers without ISP interference. Now the FCC has clear authority to hold ISPs to these openness rules and turn its attention to policies that support an affordable, faster internet.”

Operators including AT&T have promised to appeal the decision and expect the case to be brought to the Supreme Court in the US.

The decision was also met with disappointment by the FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who described the regulations as unnecessary and counterproductive.

“For many of the reasons set forth in Judge Williams’ compelling dissent, I continue to believe that these regulations are unlawful, and I hope that the parties challenging them will continue the legal fight.”

For now, and before the case potentially moves onto the Supreme Court, in the US, the net is still neutral.

US court image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years