Although the decision will be appealed to the US Supreme Court, the decision marks a victory for FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s camp in the FCC, which has been split over the dispute. Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly championed efforts opposing Wheeler’s Democratic team, though the decision does appear to move US carriers closer to the realms of utilities.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for consumers and innovators who deserve unfettered access to the entire web, and it ensures the internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth,” said Wheeler in a statement. “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.”
The decision itself will now ensure US carriers cannot block, degrade or promote internet traffic, which has been strongly opposed by the telecoms industry and members of the Republican Party. The argument against has been based around the idea of an ‘open internet’ where free-trade rules the roost. Texas Senator Ted Cruz once described the move towards net neutrality as “Obamacare for the internet”, believing it is burdensome and would create an environment of over-regulation for the internet.
The ruling also hits back at claims made by industry attorneys that ISPs are like newspaper editors, and thus have the right to edit content which flows over its network. This has been struck down by the DC Court of Appeals stating ISPs should view themselves as ‘conduits for the messages of others’ as opposed to dictating the opinions which are viewed on the internet.
While this would be considered a victory for the Wheeler camp inside the FCC, the dispute is likely to continue for some time. AT&T has already announced it will be appealing the decision and Verizon has stated its investments in Verizon Digital Media Services would be at risk without an open Internet.
The dispute on the whole has seen conflicting opinions at every level. The ruling from the DC Court of Appeals also demonstrated similar conflicts, with Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Williams stating “the ultimate irony of the Commission’s unreasoned patchwork is that, refusing to inquire into competitive conditions, it shunts broadband service onto the legal track suited to natural monopolies.”
In terms of opposition within the FCC itself, O’Rielly said in a statement “If allowed to stand, however, today’s decision will be extremely detrimental to the future of the Internet and all consumers and businesses that use it. More troubling is that the majority opinion fails to apprehend the workings of the Internet, and declines to hold the FCC accountable for an order that ran roughshod over the statute, precedent, and any comments or analyses that did not support the FCC’s quest to deliver a political victory.”
The other Republican Commissioner at the FCC Ajit Pai stated “I am deeply disappointed by the D.C. Circuit’s 2-1 decision upholding the FCC’s Internet regulations. The FCC’s regulations are unnecessary and counterproductive.”
The end of this dispute will unlikely to be seen for some time, and there are strong arguments for both camps. On the commercial side represented by the Republican Party and the telco industry, there has to be a means to commercialize the billions of dollars invested infrastructure. AT&T, Verizon, etc are not charities. However, the net neutrality camp containing the Democrat Party and the FCC Chairman insists there has to be an element of control. There is a requirement for telcos to be held accountable, and invoking the First Amendment right to free speech in this context could potentially have dangerous consequences from a commercial and political perspective.