Technology

FCC won't appeal net neutrality decision, says it will write new rules

Commission says even though court struck down provisions it sought, decision provides 'blueprint' for new regulations

The FCC said that it will not appeal a court decision that rejected a previous version of the so-called net neutrality rules.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Federal regulators said Wednesday that they will write new "open Internet" rules aimed at ensuring U.S. broadband providers do not intentionally block or slow down access to any lawful content on the Internet. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said that it will not appeal last month's court decision that rejected a previous version of the so-called net neutrality rules, which aim to prevent telecom operators from blocking or slowing online offerings like Netflix or YouTube while promoting services of their own partners.

FCC officials said that even though the court invalidated some provisions it sought to implement, the decision provided a "blueprint" for a new set of regulations.

The court used a narrow legal justification for striking down the 2010 rules, saying the FCC could not regulate broadband providers like Verizon and AT&T as "common carriers" or public utilities. The court said the FCC itself had already classified broadband providers as exempt from treatment as common carriers, which set up a legal contradiction. 

The court did, however, reaffirm that the FCC had authority to regulate broadband access under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the FCC has said it will use that authority to bring back non-discrimination and no-blocking regulations.

"Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency," FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement on Wednesday. 

But reclassifying Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in a manner in which they could be subject to net-neutrality rules would be a "massive task," according to April Glaser of the pro-neutrality Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"In the interim, we could potentially see discriminatory, non-neutral practices by ISPs," Glaser told Al Jazeera.

What happens next?

Verizon, which brought the lawsuit against the FCC, will not appeal the ruling either, a source familiar with the matter told Agence France-Presse.

"We have always focused on providing our customers with the services and experience they want, and this focus has not changed," Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden said in a statement provided to Al Jazeera. 

David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast, told Al Jazeera that his company would also honor the court’s decision. Comcast will “continue to be committed to work with Chairman Wheeler and the Commission to play a constructive role going forward that will continue to allow the Internet to flourish,” he said in a statement.

Wheeler, for his part, said the court invited the FCC to preserve a free and open Internet. 

"I intend to accept that invitation by proposing rules that will meet the court's test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet Service Providers manage traffic," he said in a statement. 

FCC commissioners will now negotiate new rules that would ensure that network operators disclose exactly how they manage Internet traffic and that they do not unfairly limit consumers' ability to surf the Web or use Internet applications.

But the chances that any newly drafted FCC rules could stand up in court are unknown. 

"If they decide to draft new rules under the (Telecommunications Act of 1996), there is a strong chance they might just be walking down that same path (toward judicial nullification)," Glaser said. "If the FCC decides to try to do reclassification, it could hold up in court, but it would be a very long and drawn out process."

"We see a really bad history of them getting it wrong over and over again," she added.

A senior FCC official told Reuters it will likely draft new rules for proposal by late spring or early summer.

Philip J. Victor contributed to this report, with Al Jazeera and wire services 

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