In a victory for the Federal Communications Commission, a Washington appeals court on Thursday refused to grant a request by the telecom industry to suspend “net neutrality” rules that are scheduled to go into effect tomorrow.
The new rules, which the FCC passed in February, forbid internet providers from throttling or blocking certain websites, or from giving “fast lane” treatment to preferred sites.
Companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon immediately claimed the rules are beyond the FCC’s powers, and challenged them in court.
Thursday’s ruling is only a partial win for the the FCC, however, since the court was only considering whether the situation was serious enough to impose a temporary stay. A full hearing on the issue is scheduled for later this year.
“This is a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators! Starting Friday, there will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair and open. Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes and other efforts to come between consumers and the Internet are now things of the past. The rules also give broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement.
The upshot is that the broadband industry will now be ruled under the FCC’s so-called Title II powers for the next few months at least, as the parties prepare to air their final arguments in court. In its order on Thursday, the DC Circuit Court also agreed to address the issue on an expedited schedule.
According to Harold Feld of Public Knowledge, a group that supports net neutrality, Thursday’s order is a promising but not decisive sign.
“At least as a preliminary matter, it means the court wasn’t impressed by the carriers’ argument, said Feld. “It clearly means the FCC order isn’t crazy, wacky stuff. It also means they think that, in the time it will take to decide it, that having Title II in place for next few months will not destroy the internet.”
Net neutrality remains a hot-button political issue, however, especially with a faction of Republican party members in the House of Representatives. This week, the GOP members renewed their attack on the FCC’s decision by proposing legislation that would effectively forbid the FCC from enforcing the new rules.
The proposal standing alone is unlikely to get through the Senate, and would almost certainly be vetoed by President Obama, who is a supporter of net neutrality. The House Republicans, however, attached the proposal to a must-pass appropriations bill, which makes the political outcome uncertain. While the spending bill will have to pass, the Republican leadership has earlier resolved not to use the budget process as a vehicle to advance unrelated issues.
You can see a copy of the DC Court order below: