Who should control access to broadband internet? That question has been at the center of a years-long battle between open internet activists and the Federal Communications Commission, who want to force internet providers to treat all data equally, and internet providers who argue that they should be able to treat internet traffic as they wish. Now, reports Jon Brodkin for Ars Technica, another blow was just struck for net neutrality with a landmark U.S. Court of Appeals ruling.
The ruling by the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the appeal of a group of U.S. internet service providers who objected to last year’s FCC ruling that would force them to treat all data equally. As Smithsonian.com reported last year, the order made three demands of ISPs: Don’t block legal content, don’t throttle or degrade lawful internet traffic and don’t accept money to prioritize some internet traffic.
But for ISPs and industry groups eager to provide “fast lane” access to well-paying customers and retain control over who gets how much data, the rule classifying internet as a telecommunications service was not well-received. Shortly after the February 2015 order, a group of industry giants like AT&T and CenturyLink filed a number of federal lawsuits objecting to the order.
The lawsuits came to a head with oral arguments before the D.C. Court of Appeals in December. As NPR’s Alina Selyukh explains, the court was asked to consider the FCC’s authority to reclassify broadband, whether the new rules were capricious or overbearing, and whether the new rules should stay at all. Today’s decision allows the FCC to keep its provisions and regulate ISPs accordingly.
The ruling affirms the arguments of internet content providers and advocates of free speech, who contend that an open internet is more efficient, more fair and more open to expression and creativity. On the other side of the debate are ISPs and those who argue that less broadband regulation is the way to go.
Open internet advocates are celebrating the decision as a victory for net neutrality, but don’t hold your breath. As Brodkin writes, the decision was split 2-1 between the three appeals court judges and industry groups are already talking appeals—and appeals to Congress. Will net neutrality make its way to the Supreme Court? It could happen—and if it does, it will underscore just how important the internet has become.