Court rules FCC out of bounds on network neutrality

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Leaving the neutral zone.

The FCC can’t tell Internet service providers how to manage their traffic and pricing schemes. That was the ruling this morning from a federal appeals court that said the commission can’t prevent service providers from blocking subscribers from a particular website or type of service – video streaming, for example – or charging more to access it.

In doing so, the court agreed with the two republican-appointed commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael Rielly, who said last week that the FCC’s network neutrality rules went beyond what congress had allowed. The court’s decision also makes FCC chair Tom Wheeler’s plan for ad hoc refereeing of Internet related consumer issues a much more unlikely proposition. He’s considering an appeal, according to a statement posted on the FCC’s website

We will consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans.

Those options also, presumably, include backtracking on an earlier FCC decision not to regulate Internet providers as “common carriers”, similar to telephone companies or railroads.

Pai, on the hand, wants the commission to “take no for an answer”

Unless Congress acts, we should stay our hand and refrain from any further attempt to micromanage how broadband providers run their networks. We should focus on removing regulatory barriers to broadband deployment, not imposing unnecessary rules that chill infrastructure investment.

It’s hard to imagine congress agreeing on new rules to regulate the Internet anytime soon, though. So reviving network neutrality rules requires either an appeal to the supreme court or a move by the FCC to regulate the Internet via hundred-plus year old common carrier rules.

About Steve Blum

Steve Blum is president of Tellus Venture Associates, a management, planning and business development consultancy for municipal and community broadband initiatives. He is a 30-year industry veteran and an expert in developing new broadband infrastructure and services, including wireless, fiber optic and satellite systems.His career includes playing key roles in the launch and growth of DirecTv in the U.S., as well as other satellite broadcasting platforms around the world. For the past ten years, he has helped build municipal wireless and fiber optic broadband systems. His client list includes many California cities, such as San Leandro, Palo Alto, Oakland, Los Angeles, Lompoc and Folsom. He’s a member of the executive team for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and has worked with other regional consortia in California.Steve is the author of seven books on the Internet and satellite broadcasting and is a frequent contributor to professional journals and industry events. He holds an A.B. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in East Asia Studies from the University of Washington, and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas. He is a triathlete and multiple Ironman finisher, and is currently ranked in the top 100 of the Challenge Triathlon world rankings, out of more than 30,000 athletes.