UPDATE, 9:53 AM: Verizon General Counsel Randal Milch assured broadband users today that the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling overturning FCC net neutrality rules “will not change consumers’ ability to access and use the Internet as they do now. The court’s decision will allow more room for innovation, and consumers will have more choices to determine for themselves how they access and experience the Internet. Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet which provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content when, where, and how they want. This will not change in light of the court’s decision.” The company, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, say that the ruling actually upholds the FCC’s authority to regulate the Internet. “While we fully expect some to rush to judgment about the fate of the open Internet, we should remember neither the adoption of the Open Internet Order, nor its partial repeal, has led or will lead to significant changes in how ISPs manage their networks,” NCTA chief Michael Powell — a former FCC chairman — says. “The cable industry has always made it clear that it does not – and will not – block our customer’s ability to access lawful Internet content, applications or services.”
PREVIOUS, 7:28 AM: The FCC relinquished its authority to regulate Internet traffic in 2002 and 2005 when it defined broadband as an information service as opposed to a phone-like common carrier service, the U.S. Court of Appeals in DC ruled this morning. Justices vacated the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order — which Verizon challenged — noting that the agency “has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations.” That means, for now at least, broadband providers including Comcast and Verizon have the freedom to provide faster download speeds to sites that they own or that pay for favored treatment. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says that regulators “will consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans.” Net neutrality advocates say that they’ll continue to press for changes. Free Press CEO Craig Aaron warned that “the biggest broadband providers will race to turn the open and vibrant Web into something that looks like cable TV” and urged the FCC to “follow its statutory mandate to make broadband communications networks open, accessible, reliable and affordable for everyone.” Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, an adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy initiative, says the agency “could continue to protect the Open Internet if it re-classified broadband as a ‘telecommunications service’.”
This is the second time the court has ruled on the matter. In 2010 it upheld Comcast’s view that the FCC lacked statutory authority to order broadband providers to treat all Internet content providers equally. Regulators then adopted disclosure, anti-blocking, and anti-discrimination requirements saying that the 1996 Telecommunications Act gives them the authority to encourage the growth of broadband. The Appeals Court doesn’t fault the FCC for its second attempt, noting that “even a federal agency is entitled to a little pride.” It also says that the FCC offered a “reasonable” interpretation of the Telecom Act. But since the rules treated broadband as a common carrier service, “then given the manner in which the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers, the regulations cannot stand.” Specifically, the court upheld the FCC’s disclosure rules, but remanded the anti-discrimination and the anti-blocking ones back to the regulators “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
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