[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Tuesday struck down [opinion, PDF] Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] rules that required broadband providers to employ nondiscriminatory practices in the treatment of Internet content. In a 63-page opinion, Judge David Tatel explained how the regulations impermissibly required providers to serve the public indiscriminately, leaving companies like Verizon and AT&T, after having spent billions of dollars [NYT report] building their infrastructures, with little room to manage the networks. The court further explained the concerns of the FCC as they attempt to regulate an ever-growing industry, focusing on the relationship between edge providers, companies like Amazon or YouTube that provide content and services, and broadband providers like Verizon:
[Proponents of net neutrality] fear that broadband providers might prevent their end-user subscribers from accessing certain edge providers altogether, or might degrade the quality of their end-user subscribers’ access to certain edge providers, either as a means of favoring their own competing content or services or to enable them to collect fees from certain edge providers. Thus, for example, a broadband provider like Comcast might limit its end-user subscribers’ ability to access the New York Times website if it wanted to spike traffic to its own news website, or it might degrade the quality of the connection to a search website like Bing if a competitor like Google paid for prioritized access.
While it is unclear how the FCC will respond, FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler said in a statement [text] that the agency will consider all options, including an appeal.
Internet providers have challenged the FCC’s net neutrality rules in the past. In April 2011 the DC Circuit granted [JURIST report] a motion by the FCC to dismiss a challenge to the new net neutrality rules. In January 2011 MetroPCS, the fifth-largest cell phone company in the US, filed an appeal [JURIST report] challenging net neutrality rules. In 2010 the DC Circuit also struck down [JURIST report] the FCC’s net neutrality rules in the case of Comcast v. FCC, holding that the FCC lacks authority to require broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic equally. Following the Comcast decision, some have argued [JURIST op-ed] that because providers, and cable operators in particular, have never possessed bottleneck monopoly power previously that the FCC should be more willing to avoid placing restrictions on them.