Now in effect, net neutrality rules should ensure a 'fast, fair, and open' Internet

Following an appeals court ruling on June 11, 2015, that denied a request by the telecom industry to suspend the rules while the issue is being litigated, the FCC's new net neutrality rules are now in effect.

You probably won't feel any immediate impact, because many Internet service providers (ISPs) have already agreed to abide by some key open Internet tenets, including the elimination of blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization of content traveling through their pipes. But the long-term implications could be significant: By putting Internet start-ups and innovators on a level playing field with more established businesses, the ruling fosters competition and could result in more choice for consumers.  

The new open Internet rules were championed by the Federal Communications Commission and many consumer groups, including Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. Many cable and telecom companies and their respective associations and trade groups opposed the rules.

In a statement released yesterday following the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the decision a victory for Internet consumers and innovators. "Starting Friday, there will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair, and open," he said. "Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes, and other efforts to come between consumers and the Internet are now things of the past.”

Read "FCC to Make Net Neutrality the Law" for background on these open Internet guidelines.

The FCC's new net neutrality rules reclassified broadband Internet as a public utility like phone service, giving the FCC more regulatory power over high-speed Internet and its providers. But cable and telecom companies immediately sued, arguing that the FCC lacked the authority to make the change. Both sides had requested an expedited hearing, which was what yesterday's ruling was about. While the appeals court denied the stay requested by a telecom industry association, saying that it hadn’t “satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review,” that only means that the larger lawsuit will continue, possibly as far as the Supreme Court.

Beyond the legal challenge, there's another potential stumbling block for proponents of the current net neutrality rules: Republicans in Congress have inserted a provision in an  appropriations bill that would freeze funding to implement net neutrality until the court has made its ruling on the legal challenge. The bill has cleared a subcommittee, but still has a long way to go in the legislative process.

—James K. Willcox


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