Open internet advocates cheered on Thursday when a federal court refused to delay the implementation of the US government's controversial new net neutrality rules, which will go into effect this Friday.
Cable and telecom interest groups, meanwhile, vowed to press on with their case, which the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ordered to be expedited. But despite the promise of a quicker review, the case could still take many months to decide, and ultimately wind up before the US Supreme Court.
In short, while the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules will go into effect this week, their ultimate fate is far from certain given the multi-pronged effort to kill them being waged by industry giants and their allies on Capitol Hill. Nevertheless, that uncertainty didn't prevent net neutrality advocates from hailing the impending implementation of the rules, which amounts to a landmark moment in a decade-long policy struggle to ensure that broadband giants treat all internet traffic equally.
"This is a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators!" FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. "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."
Rep. Anna Eshoo, the California Democrat and longtime net neutrality champion, called the court's ruling "a critical validation that the new rules to protect an open internet are grounded in strong legal footing and can endure future challenges by broadband providers."
Industry giants like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon—along with their allies in Congress—vehemently oppose the statutory authority being used by the FCC to implement the new rules. That authority, found in Title II of the Communications Act, opens the door to new taxes, fees, and higher prices for customers, the industry giants say.
Matthew M. Polka, president and CEO of the American Cable Association, expressed disappointment that the DC Circuit declined to grant a stay preventing the new rules from going into effect, but said his group was pleased the court granted expedited review of the FCC's decision.
"ACA looks forward to demonstrating to the Court why the FCC's decision to reclassify broadband internet and regulate providers under Title II as common carriers harms consumers, competition, and broadband deployment," Polka said in a statement.
FCC Chairman Wheeler, meanwhile, insisted that rules "give broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks."
Many net neutrality supporters say that industry claims of harm to consumers and competition amount to fear-mongering and delay tactics, especially because the FCC has said it will use a process called "forbearance" to avoid imposing taxes, fees, and other burdens associated with common carrier regulation.
"The DC Circuit made the right call, thwarting this latest attempt to strip Internet users of the protections they deserve," said Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, a DC-based public interest group. "The Court recognized what we have long known: The FCC's open Internet framework poses no threat to broadband providers' business interests."