FCC, Net Neutrality Lose Out to Verizon in District Court Ruling

The FCC's classification of broadband providers as separate from carriers was key to the court's ruling in favor of Verizon.

court ruling

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has released an 81-page judgment on the case of Verizon vs. the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), siding with Verizon. Verizon sued the FCC in 2011, challenging its Open Internet Order, which insisted that all Internet traffic must be treated equally—a practice also popularly referred to as net neutrality.

"Our task as a reviewing court is not to assess the wisdom of the Open Internet Order regulations, but rather to determine whether the Commission has demonstrated that the regulations fall within the scope of its statutory grant of authority," the Court wrote in the Jan. 14 judgment.

It continued: "The Commission has established that section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 vests it with affirmative authority to enact measures encouraging the deployment of broadband infrastructure. … Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such. Because the Commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet Order."

A Verizon Policy Blog post said no side got what it entirely wanted.

The court rejected Verizon's position that Congress doesn't give the FCC jurisdiction over broadband access and upheld the commission's disclosure rules. However, the court also decided the FCC can't "impose last century's common carriage requirements on the Internet and struck down rules that limited the ability of broadband providers to offer new and innovative services," wrote Randal Milch, general counsel and executive vice president of public policy, law and security at Verizon.

Milch added that what hasn't changed is "consumers' ability to access and use the Internet as they do now."

Net Neutrality Suffers a Hit

Net neutrality supporters are calling the decision a blow to consumer freedoms.

The court's decision is "poised to end the free, open and uncensored Internet that we have come to rely on," Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and a special advisor to Common Cause, a "nonpartisan" organization that pushes for "accountable government for the public interest," said in a Jan. 14 statement.

"Without prompt, corrective action by the Commission to reclassify broadband," Copps added, "this awful ruling will serve as a sorry memorial to the corporate abrogation of free speech."

Harold Feld, senior vice president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, said that the group was, of course, "disappointed" by the decision.

"The Court has taken away important FCC flexibility, and its opinion could complicate FCC efforts to transition the phone network to IP technology, promote broadband build-out and other matters," Feld said in a Jan. 14 statement.

He added that the court did, however, uphold the commission's authority to regulate broadband.

"To exercise that authority, the FCC must craft open Internet [protections] that are not full-fledged common carrier rules," said Feld. "Alternatively, if the FCC needs broader authority, it can classify broadband as a title 2 common carrier service. Both of these are viable options."