The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has dismissed an attempt by wireless industry trade group CTIA to overturn net neutrality rules formulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in February this year, with backing from President Obama. In a preliminary hearing, the appeals court decided not to impose a stay order on the implementation of the rules, which will now come into force with immediate effect, according to a tweet by a justifiably elated FCC. The CTIA, formerly known as the Cellular Telephone Industries Association, had voiced its opposition to FCC’s newly spelt-out Open Internet Order, and filed a petition in court arguing that the rules are detrimental to the interests of the industry and consumers at large in the long run. The court, in its preliminary judgment, observed that CTIA hadn’t “satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review”.
While round one has gone to the supporters of net neutrality, the war is far from won, as the court approved of a request by both parties for an expedited hearing of the case. In the aftermath of the ruling, the President of CTIA, Ms. Meredith Attwell Baker released a statement saying while the organization and its member companies continue to support a free and open internet, the decision was “disappointing and a loss for consumers”. She further noted, “Securing a judicial stay is always a challenge given the extremely high standards” and vowed to pursue the case through the legal system. The CTIA and its members have been up-in-arms over quite a few clauses in the Open Internet Order announced by the FCC as part of its efforts to preserve net neutrality, but the one clause that seems particularly hard for the carriers to swallow, is the re-classification of internet services – both wired and wireless – under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which will brand ISPs as public utilities and will allow the FCC to better regulate the sector.
While the CTIA will continue to do the rounds of the courts, Sprint and T-Mobile accepted the verdict and released separate statements, saying they have no issues in complying with it. AT&T and Verizon however, will continue to adamantly stick to its original stand, as they believe their case has enough merit in it to eventually get a sympathetic response from the judiciary. The Competitive Carriers Association meanwhile, refused to comment on the judgment. The FCC, on its part, welcomed the judgment in no uncertain terms, with Chairman Tom Wheeler releasing a statement, saying “This is a huge victory for internet consumers and innovators. Starting Friday, there will be a referee on the field to keep the internet fast, fair and open. Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes and other efforts to come between consumers and the internet are now things of the past. The rules also give broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks”.