Streaming Services Defeat Internet Providers In Appeals Court On Net Neutrality: Here’s How The Case Played Out


It was a major win for the Obama administration, streaming services and ultimately consumers in the U.S. Court of Appeals on Tuesday, June 14, in the case on net neutrality.

The federal court upheld the new rules recently established for cable and internet providers that prevent them from blocking or slowing down consumer access to web content.

While the 2-1 ruling is a victory for Google, Netflix and the like, opponents of net neutrality such as AT&T said they will appeal the decision. So even though streaming services have won, the saga is likely to continue.

To understand what the ruling means for both sides — and customers — it's important to know the basics in the case from the beginning.

Here's how the net neutrality has played out:

The net neutrality rules for an open internet that were backed by President Obama and passed by the FCC's Democratic majority were put into effect in February 2015 to make sure that there is a fair playing field when it comes to the web. The rules mean that cable and telecom companies cannot slow or block internet traffic to consumers, and cannot increase internet speeds for the sites that agree to pay for them to do so.

Obviously, companies like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon agree with the rules, which will prevent broadband internet providers from restricting customers from their content. And it's companies like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast who challenge the decision, with a group of companies suing the FCC to have the court overturned on Tuesday. The opponents of net neutrality argue that the FCC has no rights to attempt to regulate internet providers the same way as it does for telecommunication companies.

This means the case was also so much more than just the question of whether throttling is allowed or not. It also means the government can in fact regulate internet providers just like phone companies.

This was the third time the FCC went to court over the rules. Previously, internet providers were victorious since courts found they could not be regulated like telephone companies. This caused the FCC to write and then rewrite the rules to say that mobile and fixed broadband providers were common carriers that would now be regulated under the 1996 telecommunications act.

Broadband providers are used to being lightly regulated, but as internet continues to be part of consumers' everyday life, these services are more like public utility at this point. The FCC argued this again on Tuesday, citing that broadband companies should be viewed as telecommunication services. And if this is the case, bandwidth throttling or interfering with data between consumers and website and online services violated the federal law.

Two of the judges agreed.

"Given the tremendous impact third-party Internet content has had on our society, it would be hard to deny its dominance in the broadband experience," Judges David Tatel and Sri Srinivasan wrote. "Over the past two decades, this content has transformed nearly every aspect of our lives, from profound actions like choosing a leader, building a career, and falling in love to more quotidian ones like hailing a cab and watching a movie."

The ruling means streaming services can celebrate — for now.

"Today's appeals court decision underscores what's possible when millions of consumers unite to be heard and government officials listen," Netflix said in statement. "By upholding all parts of the FCC's net neutrality approach, the appeals court settled two decades of debate and legal uncertainty by ensuring the Internet remains open to all."

The battle is not over yet. Those companies who lost to the FCC will take the case to full appellate court or to the Supreme Court, whereas telecommunications groups said they will focus on getting Congress to reduce the amount of authority the FCC has.

Source: Washington Post

Photo: Joe Gratz | Flickr

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