(TNS) — In a move hailed by much — but not all — of Silicon Valley, an appeals court Tuesday upheld federal “net neutrality” rules that prevent Internet providers from slowing down service for some users while speeding it up for others willing to pay extra.
As Internet companies emphasize video, which requires beefed-up networks, the Federal Communications Commission’s regulatory powers are viewed as crucial to making sure that streams of images and sound arrive smoothly on users’ smartphones, computers and televisions.
The ruling allows the federal government to regulate Internet service as a utility similar to telephone networks, a step that will have profound implications for the way Internet providers operate. Assuming the decision stands, companies such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T will also face tougher rules for protecting and sharing their customers’ data.
Google, Twitter and other companies whose businesses rely on fast, open Internet access have pushed hard for net neutrality.
They argued that letting Internet providers supply different levels of service for different users could hurt the poor and put Web startups at a disadvantage to larger, richer competitors. They praised Tuesday’s split decision by the three-member U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit as a victory for consumers and the Internet economy.
“The outcome of today’s U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruling is a landmark event in the history of the Internet,” said Michael Beckerman, president of the Internet Association trade group, in a statement. “Through this ruling, the court has ensured that paid prioritization, blocking, and discrimination of content has no place in a free and open Internet.”
“Today’s appeals court decision underscores what’s possible when millions of consumers unite to be heard and government officials listen,” Netflix said in a statement on the Los Gatos company’s website.
The decision upholds regulations adopted last year by the FCC, rules that Internet service providers argued overstepped the commission’s authority and placed too many restrictions on their operations.
Opponents on Tuesday vowed to fight on.
“We have always expected this issue to be decided by the Supreme Court, and we look forward to participating in that appeal,” AT&T General Counsel David McAtee stated in a press release.
Net neutrality has been fiercely debated in Congress, and now the courts, for more than a decade. Congressional Democrats have repeatedly tried and failed to pass legislation that would guarantee equal, open access. Republicans have proposed legislation that would rein in the FCC’s ability to regulate Internet service.
“Today’s 2-1 court ruling upholding the FCC’s partisan decision to saddle the Internet with restrictions designed for the monopoly telephone era says more about our outdated telecommunications laws than anything else,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, in a statement. “Rather than providing Internet users and companies alike with the regulatory certainty they need to thrive, we instead now have a highly political agency micromanaging the Internet ecosystem.”
While much of the tech industry backs the net neutrality rules, support is not universal.
Networking giant Cisco Systems, for example, argued on Tuesday that the ruling would stifle innovation, not help it. It could also undercut the expansion of broadband networks by diminishing the enthusiasm of Internet providers to make those investments, said Jeff Campbell, Cisco’s vice president of government affairs.
“This is particularly true at a time when the Internet continues to evolve and innovative new services are coming to market every day, including Internet of Things technologies, telemedicine, distance learning, emergency services, and mobile 5G,” Campbell wrote in a blog post. “Policymakers need to remain focused on ensuring that these rules support the development of new technologies and business models.”
Still, many Silicon Valley businesses rely on unfettered, high-speed Internet access. The notion of letting service providers charge different prices for different speeds could hurt their ability to grow, particularly at a time when companies such as Facebook and Twitter are encouraging their users to stream live video.
“We believe the Internet should be open, free from anticompetitive discrimination, and full of diverse voices and entrepreneurial activity,” San Francisco’s Twitter tweeted Tuesday.
©2016 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.