FCC’s Net Neutrality Mandate Upheld In Federal Appeals Court, But The Battle Wages On

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the rest of the gang were all smiles on Tuesday when a federal appeals court completely upheld the agency's 400-page Open Internet Order, a set of net neutrality rules that wireless carriers and broadband service providers must abide by. The FCC emerged the victor as a result of a 2-1 ruling in its favor.

The ruling reinforces the FCC's authority and power to regulate broadband Internet service as a utility, similar to phone service, and to lay out rules to prevent what it deems are unfair practices for consumers. One of the biggest net neutrality rules is that ISPs must treat all online traffic equally rather than implement so-called Internet fast lanes for services that are willing to pay a premium. Not only does it ensure a level playing field for all online services in the FCC's eyes, it also prevents ISPs from abusing their power by favoring their own streaming services while charging third-parties like Netflix a fee for unfettered access into homes.

Net Neutrality

"This decision is huge for the FCC's authority. We won big on everything," Marvin Ammori, a civil liberties advocate and longtime proponent of net neutrality, told The Washington Post.

The victory also paves the way for an interesting decision by the FCC on how it wants to handle zero-rating services, which are those that allow for unlimited streaming of select services without it counting against a customer's data caps. One of the most popular zero-rating services is T-Mobile's BingeOn program. It's enabled by default and allows customers to stream as much video as they want from participating services, including Netflix, without consuming their monthly data allotment.

Nevertheless, this is a victory the FCC can savor for the time being, especially after past legal battles have been anything but slam dunks. Prior to altering its strategy to treat broadband providers as utilities, the FCC was on the losing end of appeals court on multiple occasions.

This also isn't the end of the legal battle. More appeals are inevitable as wireless carriers and broadband service providers are willing to go the distance.

"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 senior executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement.