Federal Court Rules Internet is a Utility

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High-speed internet is a utility according to one federal appeals court. The 2-to-1 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the government’s view that broadband is as essential as the phone and power and should be available to all Americans.

This case looked at Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules. These regulations prohibit broadband companies from blocking or slowing the delivery of internet content to consumers. The rules sparked a huge legal battle as cable, telecom and wireless internet providers sued to overturn regulations that they said went far beyond the F.C.C.’s authority and would hurt their businesses. On the other side, millions of consumers and giant tech firms rallied in favor of the regulations. The two judges who ruled in favor of the F.C.C. emphasized the importance of the internet as an essential communications and information platform for consumers. In his dissent, Judge Stephen Williams called the rules an “unreasoned patchwork” that will discourage competition in the broadband industry.

The 184-page ruling also opens a path for new limits on broadband providers beyond net neutrality. The F.C.C. has proposed privacy rules for broadband providers that would curb the ability of companies like Verizon and AT&T to collect and share data about broadband subscribers. The biggest threat to broadband providers is the potential of any regulations to hurt the rates they charge for the service, but the F.C.C. has promised it will not impose rate regulations on the firms like it does for phone companies.

The legal battle over the regulations is most likely far from over. The cable and telecom industries have signaled their intent to challenge any unfavorable decision.

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