Court rules that FCC can't stop Comcast from throttling traffic

In August 2008, the Federal Communications Commission issued a cease and desist order to cable company Comcast, demanding it stop throttling BitTorrent traffic. It was considered the first citation ever for the violation of net neutrality rules.

Comcast then filed suit against the FCC, contesting that the Commission overstepped its boundaries because net neutrality guidelines were not a law. They're not.

Under US law, telecommunications service may be directly regulated by the FCC. But in 2002, the Commission classified broadband as an "information service," which is subject to different rules. However, the FCC does have some authority to regulate the Internet on an "ancillary" basis. The FCC argued that this was all it had done.

Last January, this argument didn't look like it would stick, and many believed that the Court was going to side with Comcast.

The three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit today issued its ruling in favor of Comcast, overturning the FCC's citation on the grounds that Congress has never given the FCC the power to regulate an ISP's network management policies.

Net neutrality advocates are already speaking out against the decision.

"Because this case has turned into a lawyers' debate over technical issues, it is easy to lose sight of its importance to freedom of speech and expression," Parul P. Desai, Vice President of Media Access Project, said. "ISP interference to lawful uses of the Internet must not be tolerated, and the Commission must have the power to adopt rules to prohibit such practices."

"The FCC is firmly committed to promoting an open Internet and to policies that will bring the enormous benefits of broadband to all Americans. It will rest these policies -- all of which will be designed to foster innovation and investment while protecting and empowering consumers -- on a solid legal foundation," FCC Spokesperson Jen Howard said this afternoon. "Today's court decision invalidated the prior Commission's approach to preserving an open Internet. But the Court in no way disagreed with the importance of preserving a free and open Internet; nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end."

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