Net Neutrality Court Ruling Strongly Favors FCC; Groups Respond

In the latest twist in the long-running saga involving open internet regulations, an appeals court ruling this week affirmed the FCC's decision to classify internet access as a public utility. Advocacy groups approved of the decision, but telecom associations emphasized that a Supreme Court appeal was likely.

The conflict over whether the internet should be treated as a utility service had its day in court—and the Federal Communications Commission won out.

The FCC, which last year approved an order that classified internet access providers under the same rules as telephone companies and other common carriers, won an appeals court case on Tuesday, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upholding the FCC’s regulations.

The ruling was the biggest victory in the FCC’s long-running battle to ensure open internet access.

“After a decade of debate and legal battles, today’s ruling affirms the commission’s ability to enforce the strongest possible internet protections—both on fixed and mobile networks—that will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement.

An array of industry groups and technology advocates had thoughts on the court’s 2-1 ruling, which opponents have pledged to appeal. Read below for a selection of comments from various stakeholders.

In Support

Public Knowledge: The advocacy group, a longtime supporter of net neutrality regulations, suggested that the court’s ruling would “lay to rest what has become a needlessly contentious issue.” Gene Kimmelman, the organization’s president and CEO, encouraged Congress to avoid rekindling the conflict between broadband providers and technology advocates. “We hope that rather than refight old battles, Congress and the industry will turn toward the problem of ensuring that all Americans have access to broadband that is ‘fast, fair and open,'” he said.

Center for Democracy & Technology: Lisa Hays, the group’s vice president for programs and strategy, strongly supported the ruling, which she called a “a victory for consumers, free expression, and the core principles on which the internet was created.” She added that the ruling affirmed that the FCC followed the correct path in passing the regulation. “As the Circuit Court found, the FCC carefully reviewed a complete record in the Open Internet proceeding and clearly explained its approach for putting in place meaningful open internet protections,” Hayes said in a news release.

Electronic Frontier Foundation: On its Twitter account, the group cheered the ruling as “huge news”. However, the group remains focused on secondary fronts, including H.R. 2666, a bill that passed the House in April that the group warns could take the teeth out of the FCC’s open internet regulations. “FCC efforts to protect consumers or preserve competition would be subject to judicial challenge as long as a clever lawyer could find a way to claim that an FCC decision regulated a rate and no exemption applied,” Ernesto Falcon, the EFF’s legislative counsel, argued.

In Opposition

USTelecom: Walter McCormick, the group’s president, emphasized that the original FCC plan represented “significant legal failings” on the part of the commission, and that Tuesday’s decision represented a continuation of those failings. “Our industry strongly supports open internet principles and the FCC’s order is wholly unnecessary to keeping the internet open,” McCormick said in a statement. “We will continue to work toward policies that facilitate America’s broadband leadership, are reviewing the court’s decision, and will be evaluating all of our legal options.”

National Cable & Telecommunications Association: The group, which characterized the ruling as a “split decision,” said it was heartened by the dissent written by Judge Stephen Williams, a Reagan-era appointee. “Though disappointed in today’s result, we are particularly gratified by Judge Williams’ recognition of the ‘watery thin and self-contradictory’ nature of the FCC arguments used to justify the imposition of common carriage laws on Internet networks,” the group said in a statement.

CTIA: The Wireless Association: Meredith Attwell Baker, the group’s president and CEO, came out strongly against the idea of regulating mobile internet as a utility. “For the U.S. to remain the global mobile leader, we need rules that help promote consumer access to 5G and the Internet of Things without subjecting the wireless industry to investment-chilling public utility regulation,” she said in a statement. She also encouraged the FCC to allow for “innovative new services,” such as those that allow for free use for certain kinds of data—a practice called “zero-rating” that has been commonly used by providers such as T-Mobile.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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