Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to regulate internet service providers the same as any common carrier of utility services, opening up companies like Comcast and Time Warner to regulation similar to water and electric providers. Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld that notion, an enormous victory for the Obama administration and net neutrality advocates.
The ruling also preserves federal regulations prohibiting companies from either blocking or slowing of internet traffic to consumers or speeding up websites that agree to pay a fee for faster access. Here's a look at the ruling:
The court noted the impact internet access has had on consumers' lives: "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 majority said. "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."
Therefore, internet access cannot be treated as a luxury, requiring little government oversight. Instead, high-speed internet is a utility, allowing more federal regulation in the interest of consumer protection.
Consumer advocates were obviously pleased with the decision. Gene Kimmelman, president of the public interest group Public Knowledge, told The New York Times, "This is an enormous win for consumers. It ensures the right to an open internet with no gatekeepers."
The ruling is also seen as a victory for the Obama administration, which backed the net neutrality rules. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler released a statement noting, "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."
Despite the decision, the net neutrality battle is far from over -- internet providers like AT&T are committed to taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court, so we could be revisiting this same issue in another year. In the meantime, you can read the full opinion below: