Telecom Timeout

Apr 6 2010   11:05AM GMT

Court ruling is a major set-back for FCC’s net neutrality position

Kate Gerwig Kate Gerwig Profile: Kate Gerwig

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“Net neutrality” advocates took a body blow today when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit gave the FCC a big thumbs’ down on having the authority to prevent Comcast Corp. from limiting Internet traffic from high-bandwidth file-sharing services.

The 3-0 ruling from the three-judge panel may have only concerned an FCC Comcast ruling (click here to read the court’s full opinion), but the bigger issue is whether the FCC has the power to regulate how ISPs manage their network traffic. And it seems that’s a negative. The ripple effect leads to the question of whether the FCC has the authority to declare that all broadband traffic is created equal – which would effectively nix tiered services that offer higher profit margins.

The decision overturns a 2008 FCC order that Comcast should cease and desist blocking subscribers’ peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing applications (remember that this was under the Bush Administration’s FCC, but the ruling will affect the Obama FCC’s National Broadband Plan.

The court decision is also a set-back for members of Congress who want to usher in net neutrality. FCC Chairman Juilus Genachowski said he wants to try to reclassify the broadband plan as a Title II service in communications law, which means the FCC would have authority to create regulations. Broadband is currently classified as Title 1 (in plain English that means the FCC doesn’t have the authority to regulate it).

Can we hear corks popping in the Washington office of major carriers? For once, AT&T and Verizon were siding with the likes of Comcast. But savor the moment; it won’t last long.

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