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Science & Technology

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Net Neutrality Rules


A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. sided with the Obama administration today on its so-called net neutrality rules. They require Internet providers to treat all web traffic equally. Critics like Texas Senator Ted Cruz have called the rules Obamacare for the Internet. NPR's tech blogger, Alina Selyukh, has been following the story and she's with us now. And we know this is kind of a complicated topic. Can you just tell us in a nutshell what these rules actually are?

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: So there are two elements to it. And the first is the actual net neutrality principles, which is this fundamental philosophy that says phone and cable companies should not discriminate, block, slow down any competitive websites. And they shouldn't give fast lanes to any companies who pay extra.

And the second layer to it is the underlying regulation that sort of turns those principles into policy. And what the FCC did last year is for the third time, they took on these net neutrality laws and they decided to adopt them by completely overhauling the way they regulate Internet. And they put Internet service providers into the same kind of bucket as an old telephone company.

It's called a telecommunication service, which means they are now subject to much higher scrutiny and much higher levels of regulations, sort of similar what a public utility might experience.

MCEVERS: OK, so what were the arguments in court in this case?

SELYUKH: Well, as you can imagine, the telecom industry did not like this expansion of authority. Telecom, wireless, cable associations, and then AT&T, CenturyLink and a bunch of smaller broadband providers sued the FCC, arguing that it overstepped its authority. And one of the major arguments they make is that this approach is so outdated that it will stifle innovation and it will stop them from investing in these really important networks.

MCEVERS: Now, these rules have been upheld. I mean, do these Internet providers plan to appeal that decision?

SELYUKH: That's really widely expected. They've indicated that they will continue to continue to lobby Congress to change the laws fundamentally and that they will appeal either to the full panel of the D.C. circuit or to the Supreme Court. And this does seem to be likely to stretch into the next administration.

MCEVERS: All right, so while all that's happening - I mean, in the meantime, what does this ruling mean for people who use the Internet, for you and me?

SELYUKH: Practically not much is going to change immediately. The rules have been on the books for a year, and they will remain on the books. The main thing that changes is that going forward, the Federal Communications Commission now has this really wide-reaching authority to set new rules and regulations for the Internet providers, but also pursue any kind of violation of these rules or even a suggestion of a violation.

They have set up a new process for complaints so both consumers and companies that feel like their websites aren't loading as fast or they're getting some kind of gate-keeping pressure from the telecoms, they can complain to the FCC. And the FCC said that going forward, they will investigate on a case-by-case basis any potential violations.

MCEVERS: That NPR's Alina Selyukh. Thank you very much.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.