Comcast wins latest round in net neutrality battle

In the ongoing battle between the FCC and Comcast over control of Internet traffic, Comcast has won the first round. A U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned a 2008 commission ruling against Comcast for throttling bandwidth-hungry P2P Internet traffic.

Obviously, the ruling is a setback for the FCC and its new national broadband plan. Now, the FCC and Congress will have to go back to the drawing board and develop new rules for Comcast and other ISPs.

In a 3-0 vote, the three-judge panel ruled that Congress did not give the FCC the right to regulate an ISP's network management methods. Of course, the lingering question is how the ruling will affect FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's "net neutrality" vision which says that ISPs should treat all legal Internet traffic equally.

One option that the FCC could consider is applying "common carrier" regulations that it has on traditional phone service to Internet services. Traditionally, the FCC has maintained a hands off approach on regulating Internet services, which have been classified as "information services." Although changing the rules would give the FCC necessary authority to police net neutrality violations it will likely be met with court challenges from both large telcos and cable MSOs.    

Not surprisingly, the ruling was met with opposition from consumer groups. As reported in FierceTelecom's sister publication FierceOnlineVideo, Parul P. Desai, Vice President of Media Access Project, called the ruling a disappointment.

"Media Access Project continues to maintain that the Commission must have the authority to protect all Internet users against harmful and anti-competitive conduct by Internet service providers," said Desai. "Because this case has turned into a lawyers' debate over technical issues, it is easy to lose sight of its importance to freedom of speech and expression. ISP interference to lawful uses of the Internet must not be tolerated, and the Commission must have the power to adopt rules to prohibit such practices."

For more:
- Wall Street Journal has this article

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