WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Federal
Communications Commission lacks the authority to require broadband providers
to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks.
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is a
big victory for Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable company. It had
challenged the FCC’s authority to impose so-called “net neutrality”
obligations on broadband providers.
The ruling also marks a serious setback for the FCC, which is trying to
officially set net neutrality regulations. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski
argues that such rules are needed to prevent phone and cable companies from
using their control over Internet access to favor some online content and
services over others.
The decision also has serious implications for the massive national
broadband plan released by the FCC last month. The FCC needs clear authority
to regulate broadband in order to push ahead with some its key
recommendations, including a proposal to expand broadband by tapping the
federal fund that subsidizes telephone service in poor and rural
The court case centered on Comcast’s challenge of a 2008 FCC order banning
the company from blocking its broadband subscribers from using an online
file-sharing technology known as BitTorrent. The commission, at the time
headed by Republican Kevin Martin, based its order on a set of
net-neutrality principles it adopted in 2005 to prevent broadband providers
from becoming online gatekeepers. Those principles have guided the FCC’s
enforcement of communications laws on a case-by-case basis, and now
Genachowski is trying to formalize those rules.