WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out Federal Communications Commission rules that require Internet service providers to give all traffic equal access through their networks.
Although it acknowledged that the FCC has some authority to regulate Internet service, the court said Tuesday that the commission overstepped its authority when it imposed anti-discrimination rules on Internet service providers, because the commission had previously exempted those companies from that type of regulation. The decision, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was the second case the FCC had lost before the appeals court over its authority to regulate Internet service providers.
The ruling means that, under current law, broadband providers can offer companies that provide Internet content — ESPN or Facebook, for example — faster service to provide their content to consumers, at a price. It is unclear how the FCC will respond. The commission could overcome the ruling if it decided to reclassify Internet service as a utility, much like telephone or electric service. Consumer groups have advocated for that solution, but the commission has faced fierce opposition from Congress and heavy lobbying by broadband providers against doing so.
In addition, Tom Wheeler, the new FCC chairman, has shown some signs that he wants to allow freedom for Internet companies to design new products and see how they work, rather than impose regulations that prohibit potentially innovative services before they are tested.
In a statement, Wheeler said the court ruled that the FCC does have authority to enact measures “encouraging the deployment of broadband infrastructure” and said the commission might appeal the ruling.