FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was handed a major victory by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia over Net Neutrality rules, or Title II. The court in a split decision, upheld the rules 2-1.
The FCC passed the rules 3-2 on February 28, 2015 in one of the most partisan and politically divided votes since the Sirius/XM merger in 2007. The three Democrats on the commission including Wheeler voted for it; the two Republicans dissented.
Net Neutrality prevents companies against discriminating content over another and creating “fast lanes” to deliver content over someone else. To pull this off, the FCC reclassified the Internet as a “Title II” carrier, regulating it the same as a landline telephone line, and becomes a public utility like gas, water, and electricity. In other words, everyone streams Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix at the same streams.
Opponents (including cable companies, ISPs, etc.) quickly appealed to the courts, and lost. In its ruling, the opponents failed to prove the FCC’s regulation of interconnection agreements under Title II, which regulates landline phones. The court also found mobile broadband is also subject to Title II because it is – like wired broadband – a telecommunications service.
Predictably, many Democrats on Capitol Hill praised the ruling, as did consumer advocates, unions, and progressive groups. Cable companies, telecos, and conservatives blasted the ruling, saying the FCC’s actions are unconstitutional.
FCC Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, who voted against the rules, also blasted the decision.
The court decision is just one part in a long road ahead for net neutrality. One telecom (AT&T) has signaled it would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, as predicted by this blog, with others joining in. If it does, it would be the biggest communications case to land at the High Court since Aereo. Some of the same entities who criticized the Aereo ruling also ripped into the D.C. court decision on net neutrality.
As it stands, eight members currently serve on the High Court with a ninth seat vacant due to the death of Justice Anton Scalia in February. President Obama has nominated law professor Merrick Garland for the ninth seat, but Republicans have vowed to block the nomination until the next President is elected. Given today’s net neutrality decision, Republicans now have even more of a reason to do so, giving more juice to a political dumpster fire that isn’t going out anytime soon.