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US appeals court upholds FCC's net neutrality order

The ruling caps off a years-long battle over net neutrality between ISPs, the FCC and even the administration of President Barack Obama.
Written by Natalie Gagliordi, Contributor

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules and the decision to reclassify internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

The ruling also upholds a move to regulate mobile broadband vendors such as AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless as common carriers based on Title III of the Communications Act.

Judges presiding over the case rejected First Amendment claims from ISPs "because a broadband provider does not -- and is not understood by users to -- 'speak' when providing neutral access to internet content as common carriage".

The ruling caps off a years-long battle over net neutrality between ISPs, the FCC, tech giants Google and Netflix, and even the administration of President Barack Obama.

Obama came out in support of net neutrality in 2014, asserting that internet access was a basic American right much like other utilities and thus providers "have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business."

Simply put, Obama and others were advocating against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization while also calling for increased transparency.

In 2015, the FCC voted to accept the proposal to treat ISPs as common carriers, which prompted the challenges from telephone and cable providers.

Naturally, reactions to today's ruling are mixed. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who has turned net neutrality into his signature initiative during his time as head of the commission, praised the ruling as a "victory for consumers and innovators who deserve unfettered access to the entire web."

"After a decade of debate and legal battles, today's ruling affirms the Commission's ability to enforce the strongest possible internet protections -- both on fixed and mobile networks -- that will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future," Wheeler said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) said the common carriage classification is "a very poor fit" for regulating broadband networks, citing the potential threat to innovation amidst service providers.

However, another statement from AT&T suggests the net neutrality battle is far from over.

"We have always expected this issue to be decided by the Supreme Court, and we look forward to participating in that appeal," said David McAtee, AT&T's senior executive VP and general counsel.

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