Federal court upholds net neutrality in win for Obama administration

An appeals court upheld the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules on Tuesday, requiring internet providers to treat all web traffic equally.

The three-judge panel’s 2-1 decision is another victory for consumer advocates, the regulator and the Obama administration who have campaigned for years to protect an open internet.

While it is a major setback for the cable companies and other internet service providers that lined up to oppose the rule-making, it is unlikely to be the last time the rules are challenged; both sides expect the case to eventually land before the supreme court.

The rules, which change the FCC’s classification of internet service providers by treating them like a public utility, attempt to prevent companies that provide internet connections from privileging traffic from one source over another.

An army of internet activists fought for the net neutrality rules passed by the FCC in 2015. Before the ruling, more than 4m comments were sent to the regulator. The legal challenge from the cable industry was almost immediate.

The case will almost certainly continue to wend its way up through the legal system – the next step will be to appeal to a panel of more than three judges – a fact acknowledged by the plaintiffs. “We have always expected this issue to be decided by the supreme court, and we look forward to participating in that appeal,” said David McAtee, ATT’s general counsel.

The FCC argued that the rules are crucial for allowing customers to go anywhere on the internet without a provider favoring its own service over that of other competitors.

The FCC’s move to reclassify broadband came after Barack Obama publicly urged the commission to protect consumers by regulating internet service as it does other public utilities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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