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Net Neutrality: D.C. Circuit Strikes Down FCC's Anti-Blocking Rules

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. on January 16, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The D.C. Circuit struck down relevant portions of the FCC's Open Internet rules resulting in a slightly more claustrophobic Internet.

The D.C. Circuit eliminated the anti-blocking and anti-discrimination requirements in the FCC's Open Internet Order. The ruling was based on the Verizon v. FCC case, where Verizon challenged the FCC's authority to impose the rules on broadband networks.

This case is a big win for ISPs and sets a strong precedent for future network neutrality cases.

How the Ruling Impacts Net Neutrality

The FCC's Open Internet Order is like the playground aide who told everyone to share the slide equally. Basically, the Open Internet Order embraces the idea of net neutrality by preventing broadband providers from blocking services and content and discriminating against who gets network traffic priority.

Like the kid who's always in detention, Verizon didn't want the teacher (or in this case, the FCC) to assert authority it didn't have. Verizon argued that the FCC overstepped its authority to regulate broadband providers by treating ISPs as common carriers when the FCC never classified them as such. Having a common carriers classification subjects ISPs to stricter regulations.

However, even without calling ISPs common carriers, the FCC took it upon themselves to create rules in the Open Internet Order that appear to be similar to common carrier regulations. The FCC opined that their legal duty to promote broadband competitiveness and protect the public interest gave them the authority to impose such rules on ISPs, according to Ars Technica.

The D.C. Circuit became suspicious of the FCC's clever move and stated in the opinion that while the Commission has general authority to regulate ISPs, it can't regulate broadband providers like common carriers if they were never classified that way. Since the broadband providers aren't common carriers, the anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules must be voided because they imposed common carrier obligations on ISPs.

What Does this Mean for Internet Service Providers (ISPs)?

In light of the D.C. Circuit's decision, Verizon and other ISPs can offer services and make arrangements that allow content providers to pay money to increase the speed to their content. For example, under the new ruling, if Verizon wanted to charge Hulu to get a faster connection to you, it would be allowed to.

Although Verizon issued a statement following the decision in support of net neutrality, it was all too happy to state that the ruling gives customers more power over "how they access and experience the Internet," according to Engadget.

As of now, the FCC still has the option of appealing to SCOTUS regarding the D.C. Circuit's decision.

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