Federal Court: FCC Does Not Have Right to Regulate Net Neutrality

A federal court ruled today that the FCC does not have thee right to regulate net neutrality. The decision is a blow to the FCC, which argued it had authority to police Internet providers and prevent them from blocking or slowing subscribers’ Internet traffic.
CNET News reported:

The Federal Communications Commission does not have the legal authority to slap Net neutrality regulations on Internet providers, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. unanimously tossed out the FCC’s August 2008 cease and desist order against Comcast, which had taken measures to slow BitTorrent transfers and had voluntarily ended them earlier that year.

Because the FCC “has failed to tie its assertion” of regulatory authority to any actual law enacted by Congress, the agency does not have the authority to regulate an Internet provider’s network management practices, wrote Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Tuesday’s decision could doom one of the signature initiatives of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat. Last October, Genachowski announced plans to begin drafting a formal set of Net neutrality rules–even though Congress has not given the agency permission to begin. (Verizon Communications CEO Ivan Seidenberg has said that new regulations would stifle innovative technologies like telemedicine.)

Even though liberal advocacy groups had urged the FCC to take action against Comcast, the agency’s vote to proceed was a narrow 3-2, with the dissenting commissioners predicting at the time that it would not hold up in court. FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican, said at the time that the FCC’s ruling was unlawful and the lack of legal authority “is sure to doom this order on appeal.”

Net neutrality proponents responded on Tuesday by saying the FCC should slap landline-style regulations on Internet providers, which could involve price regulation, service quality controls, and technological mandates.

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