Net Neutrality Upheld by US Appeals Court, Internet Classified as Utility

Posted on: June 16, 2016, 12:38h. 

Last updated on: June 16, 2016, 01:42h.

Net neutrality secured a landmark win this week, after a three-judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled 2-1 in favor of the government having authoritative power in policing how Internet service providers (ISPs) deliver content.

net neutrality US appeals court decision
The Internet is open for business and unbiased in content, following a favorable ruling on net neutrality by an appeals court in Washington, DC. Not all conglomerates are pleased with the court’s decision, however. (Image: zdnet.com)

The decision effectively classifies the Internet as a public utility that is vital to daily life, not unlike electricity, sewage, and water.

At its core, “net neutrality” is the belief that ISPs shouldn’t have the right to discriminate against certain content, that broadband companies cannot speed up or slow down traffic, and that all data is considered equal.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for consumers and innovators who deserve unfettered access to the entire Web,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a press release.

“After a decade of debate and legal battles, today’s ruling affirms the Commission’s ability to enforce the strongest possible Internet protections, both on fixed and mobile networks, that will ensure the Internet remains open, now and in the future.”

Circuit Judges David Tatel and Sri Srinivasan ruled in favor of the FCC, while Judge Stephen Williams dissented.

Safety Net

The case in question, the United States Telecom Association v. the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Independent Telephone & Telecommunication Alliance, is a significant ruling that will likely be the final say, unless the DC Circuit Court agrees to a full bench “en banc” hearing.

The Telecom Association’s last option would be appealing to the US Supreme Court.

Telecom companies such as AT&T contended that the FCC shouldn’t have the legal right to oversee how it delivers the web to consumers. The FCC argued that if it didn’t have regulatory authority, companies could filter what content reaches users’ computer screens.

Considering how many telecom companies are subsidiaries of multibillion-dollar parents (Comcast and NBC, for example), granting the government transparency controls is likely beneficial to US residents. Much as we’ve all become used to the current cable news outlets’ near-universal, if diverging, bias, ISPs wanted to dictate what information was relayed to their customers.

The US appeals court decision is expected to influence Canada’s own net neutrality legal proceedings. Canada will soon reexamine its laws surrounding the web, after an unlimited streaming music service that doesn’t use data on mobile devices was criticized for going against net neutrality laws.

Gambling Impact

The FCC win is another positive move for online gamblers who have been subjected to censorship by ISPs in past years. Most notably, Canadians residing in Quebec were blocked from accessing unlicensed online gambling sites.

The FCC may not always be the most popular governmental agency in the United States, however its stance on net neutrality should be well received by the gambling community.

An Internet without borders and constraints is positive for consumers, but that isn’t necessarily the case regarding economics. Analysts say the court’s verdict will restrict revenues for ISPs, as companies will not be able to offer tiered services.

“We do not inquire as to whether the agency’s decision is wise as a policy matter,” Tatel and Srinivasan stated. “Nor do we inquire whether some or many economists would disapprove of the agency’s approach because we do not sit as a panel of referees on a professional economics journal, but as a panel of generalist judges.”