Court Rules Against FCC In 'Net Neutrality' Case

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A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw out a ruling on Tuesday that could put the FCC's ambitious National Broadband Plan in jeopardy.


The giant cable and Internet provider Comcast won an important legal victory today in its ongoing dispute with the Federal Communications Commission. A federal appeals court in Washington ruled that the FCC lacks the authority to punish Comcast for secretly blocking some traffic on its network.

Public-interest groups worry the ruling leaves the FCC essentially powerless to protect the interest of broadband consumers, as Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: The dispute dates to 2007, when Comcast was caught selectively blocking traffic on its network without telling users. The FCC decided that this violated the principle of net neutrality, the idea that Internet providers should treat all traffic on their networks equally.

In 2008, the commission voted to censure Comcast. The cable giant sued, and today, Comcast won an important decision. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC overstepped its statutory authority. Comcast, which has always maintained that it was just doing routine network management, released a statement praising the court for clearing the company's good name and reputation. But public-interest groups worry that the implications of the ruling could go way beyond the debate over net neutrality.

Those groups worry that the court has left the FCC without any authority to regulate Internet access. That would imperil the commission's brand new National Broadband Plan, with its 360-odd pages of recommendations intended to make Internet access faster and cheaper.

For a while now, consumer advocates have been urging the FCC to throw out the Bush era commission's approach to the Internet and to reclassify broadband, regulating it more like phone service. That would certainly trigger a new round of litigation from cable and telecom companies, which want to keep government regulation of the broadband industry to a minimum.

In a written statement, the FCC vowed to come up with new ways of preserving, quote, "a free and open Internet." But it didn't say how the commission plans to get there.

For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

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