Blog Post 5 – Internet as a Utility, not a Luxury — Net Neutrality Rules Upheld

The US Court of Appeals for the US DC Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision affirming the Obama Administration’s position that high-speed internet service must be defined as a utility, not a free market deregulated industry luxury.  Broadband companies now cannot block, prioritize or slow the delivery of internet content to consumers.

The Horror! … also, Hyperbole.

This represents a historic victory over the immense lobbying prowess assembled by the embattled cable, telecom and wireless internet providers to thwart the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules.

On the other end of M-Dimensional space were the public and silicon valley tech firms, which supported net neutrality (especially the latter).

““It ensures the internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth, …

… 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. “

— Post-ruling statement by Tom Wheeler, chairman (D) of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“These conclusions about consumer perception find extensive support in the record and together justify the Commission’s decision, …

Over the past two decades, this content has transformed nearly every aspect of our lives, from profound actions like choosing a leader, building a career, and falling in love to more quotidian ones like hailing a cab and watching a movie,”

— Written Opinion of the judges, David Tatel and Sri Srinivasan.  The ruling is 184 pages.  These judges believed that, from the perspective of the user, there is little to no difference between mobile and landline internet access, so there shouldn’t be a difference in the government’s ability to have oversight.   It also opens the door to regulating the ability of cable, mobile, and ISPs to collect and share data of broadband subscribers.  There are also growing calls for the FCC to take advantage of “one of the most important decisions in the history of the internet” (to quote the Chicago Tribune) to go after zero-rating practices as well.

However, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast have vowed not to give up on their right to throttle service and pipeline consumers to their own content without another fight.  Having lost the battle, they are pinning their hopes on appealing to the Supreme Court (and Congress) to win the war.

“While this is unlikely the last step in this decade-long debate over internet regulation, we urge bipartisan leaders in Congress to renew their efforts to craft meaningful legislation that can end ongoing uncertainty, promote network investment and protect consumers,”

— Statement by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA)

The decision and drive to implement net neutrality largely falls along party lines within the government, with the dissenting judge, Stephen Williams, and Ajit Pai (the Republican FCC Commissioner) stating that such “unreasoned patchwork” (from William’s dissension) of rules will hamper competition if not simply unlawful.

“I continue to believe that these regulations are unlawful, and I hope that the parties challenging them will continue the legal fight,”

— Ajit Pai

Republicans in Congress, where they control both Houses (for now,) now want to rewrite the Communications Act which they believe is a

“There’s a better way to protect consumers from blocking and throttling without stifling innovation or delaying build-out.”

— Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill)

In seeming protest of the ruling and the FCC’s victory, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee voted on Wednesday to approve a bill that would exempt small ISPs from providing their broadband customers with information on network performance and network management practices, regardless of any new FCC rules to the contrary.  This matches a similar bill unanimously passed (411-0) in the US House of Representatives in March, 2016.  President Obama could, of course, veto any combined legislation… (but with a margin like that… it might not be worth it).

Kevin Kimberlin, Chairman of Spencer Trask & Company, for opinion piece in the Daily Caller, harshly criticized the ruling,

“The speed of light force underpinning the optical backbone of the Internet won’t be stopped, but it can be deflected — even sent backwards. With the net neutrality rule, the FCC is re-regulating broadband carriers with rules set up for a 1930s landline phone monopoly. Applying utility-like regulatory burdens to the Internet will stall investment, entrepreneurship and employment. This hurts our economy.”

Public industry groups on the other hand largely hailed the decision.

Byers, A.  (2016, June 14).  “Court upholds Obama-backed net neutrality rules.”  Politico.

Fried, I.  (2016, June 16).  “A huge win on net neutrality could embolden the FCC to tighten regulations in other areas.”  recode.

Gross, G.  (2016, June 16).  “Senate panel votes to weaken net neutrality rules.”  NetworkWorld | Today’s Top Stories.

Kang, C.  (2016, June 14).  “Court Backs Rules Treating Internet as Utility, Not Luxury.”  The New York Times | Technology.

Kimberlin, K.  (2016, June 16).  “Upholding Net Neutrality Will Put Us Back In The Slow Lane.”  The Daily Caller | Opinion.



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