A federal appeals court struck down the Federal Communications Commission's rules governing net neutrality on Tuesday. In a case brought by Verizon against those rules, a three judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington found for Verizon on a technicality—the FCC was treating Internet providers as "common carriers" while simultaneously classifying them as exempt from common carrier rules.
“Given that the commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the commission from nonetheless regulating them as such,” U.S. Circuit Judge David Tatel wrote for the court, according to Bloomberg.
At the same time, the appeals court made it clear that the FCC has jurisdiction in this area, rejecting a Verizon argument to the contrary. That means that the FCC could find a different way to enforce net neutrality.
Net Neutrality is the name given to the idea that all Internet traffic be treated equally. What that means in practical terms is that companies like Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, and other major Internet providers can't decide which traffic reaches your device at what speeds.
Companies like Verizon would like the option of either giving their own properties preferential treatment or charging content providers for the privilege of getting the highest speeds to you, the customer.
For instance, without Net Neutrality rules, Verizon could slow down Netflix traffic, or if Netflix agreed to pay up, speed it up. Comcast might slow down YouTube traffic, or again, Google could pay to ensure that YouTube videos were delivered faster than every other video source out there.
In its court case against the FCC, Verizon argued that this is needed in order to allow room to innovate.
To that end, two GOP U.S. Representatives issued statements praising Tuesday's ruling, saying, "This ruling stands up for consumers and providers alike by keeping the government’s hands off the Internet." They would apparently prefer that the Internet be subject to the rule of large corporations.
Tuesday's ruling isn't likely to result in any immediate changes, and Jonathan Zittrain, former chairman of the FCC's open Internet advisory committee, told the AP that it was telling that the news didn't move any major Internet stocks.
For one thing, the FCC can appeal, and Internet providers aren't going to want to start rearranging the wagons until the regulatory ground is settled. The more important reason, however, is that Tuesday's ruling leaves room for the FCC to find a different way to protect Net Neutrality, something the commission says it is still committed to.
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