By Leo Doran
The Federal Communication Commission’s groundbreaking net neutrality rules issued last year—which are meant to prevent internet service providers from assigning content to fast and slow lanes—have survived a challenge in federal court.
In a 2-1 ruling announced Tuesday, a United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit panel upheld the FCC’s decision to treat broadband internet as a utility, thereby opening the service to heavier regulation.
Telecommunications companies like Verizon and Comcast had argued that the provision of broadband is an information service, and that the agency’s regulations are unduly burdensome and raise Constitutional questions.
The industry had also voiced concerns that the ruling could stunt investment in broadband internet infrastructure and drive up costs for all consumers.
Big content providers like Netflix, by contrast, are celebrating the ruling. They had voiced concerns that without net neutrality rules, internet providers could charge unfairly high fees for the transmission of data heavy content, or theoretically, throttle access to websites at will.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who helped craft the regulations, said in a statement that the victory “ensures the internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth.”
Some ed-tech industry experts had previously worried that educational content might become financially outgunned by more mainstream digital entertainment.
Without federal protections, a number of ed-tech advocates worried that schools would see slower delivery of their online content, unless the vendors attempting to serve them could pay for “fast-lane” services.
“Open” internet advocates say that the ruling is also favorable to smaller internet-content producers. Unless the rules are overturned on appeal, an ed-tech startup can continue to build big video or data-intensive game libraries without having to pay Verizon or Comcast to ensure their content gets to schools.
The panel of federal judges which presided over the appeal included Sri Srinivasan, who was reportedly on President Obama’s shortlist for a nomination to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy.
According to legal experts, the industry can now request that the entire United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit hear the appeal en banc, or attempt an appeal directly to the Supreme Court.
Over the past few years the Democratic-controlled FCC’s protection of net neutrality has inflamed public discourse. After millions weighed in on the FCC’s deliberations, President Obama came out in favor of the FCC taking action to protect net neutrality, while some Republicans, including FCC commissioners, have vociferously opposed the regulations the agency ended up putting in place.