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In Win For The FCC, Federal Judge Refuses To Block Net Neutrality Rules


As of today, the Federal Communications Commission is officially enforcing new rules to regulate broadband Internet access. This is a milestone in the long-running fight over the future of the Internet. Big phone and cable companies had asked a federal appeals court to stay the rules. Yesterday, the court declined. As NPR's Joel Rose reports, it is hardly the last challenge the new rules will face.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: When you turned on your smartphone or computer or tablet today, you probably noticed that - actually, you probably didn't notice anything different at all.

MATT WOOD: We feel like we've won a big victory, but the victory is that nothing much is changing.

ROSE: Matt Wood is the policy director at Free Press, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that spent the past decade pushing for strong open-Internet rules.

WOOD: This was always about preserving the rights we've always had and keeping users in control of their Internet experience. And the cable company or the phone company can't try to make those choices for you.

ROSE: The new rules require phone and cable companies to treat all of the traffic on their networks equally. Supporters say that's needed to stop your broadband provider from blocking or slowing the websites of its competitors or from charging companies like Amazon and Netflix more to get their data to you faster. But big phone and cable companies say the rules aren't necessary, and they're suing to overturn them. John Banks is a senior vice president at U.S. Telecom, an industry trade group that represents AT&T and Verizon, among others.

JOHN BANKS: We've all subscribed to open Internet principles that say no blocking, no throttling, our companies don't do that.

ROSE: But in 2007, the cable company Comcast was caught throttling. The Federal Communications Commission has tried before to craft similar rules, but they were struck down in court, so the FCC tried a different approach - regulating Internet access like an essential public utility, under laws that were originally written for the telephone. John Banks at U.S. Telecom says that's a mistake.

BANKS: The idea that the Internet is like telephone service is a deeply scary one for consumers and businesses everywhere that I think, really, will slow down innovation and make the Internet, you know, a less cool place for people.

ROSE: But Matt Wood at Free Press says tough, utility-style rules are the only way to keep giant phone and cable companies from abusing their power.

WOOD: What they really don't like is having firm authority and an agency with teeth and with the ability to enforce these rules and protect Internet-users against cable and phone company transgressions.

ROSE: Right now, the FCC is facing nearly a dozen lawsuits seeking to block the new rules. One of them comes from Voice Communication Exchange, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit founded by Daniel Berninger.

DANIEL BERNINGER: For 20 years, we've been able to solve all these issues as they've arisen without the FCC coming in.

ROSE: The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit says it will expedite the case, with oral arguments as soon as December. That's not the only challenge to the FCC's rules. This week, Republicans in Congress inserted language into a House appropriations bill that would block funding for the FCC to enforce its rules until all legal challenges are resolved, a process that could take years. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.