FCC won’t appeal ruling on Internet neutrality

WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission says it won’t appeal a court decision that struck down rules it designed to ensure that the transmission of all Internet content be treated equally. The agency says it will fashion new rules.

The chairman of the FCC announced Wednesday that the agency will rewrite the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules following the ruling by a federal appeals court last month. The ruling said the FCC has the authority to regulate broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic but the agency failed to establish that its regulations don’t overreach.

The court’s decision could affect the prices consumers pay to access entertainment, news and other online content.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement the agency will propose new rules to meet the court’s requirements.

The FCC’s “net neutrality” rules barred broadband providers from prioritizing some types of Internet traffic over others. The directives aligned with the Obama administration’s goal of Internet openness. President Barack Obama has said that “net neutrality” is an issue he cares deeply about, partly because his campaign was powered by an Internet free of commercial barriers.

Proponents of net neutrality maintain it ensures a level playing field for big and small companies. They believe it protects consumers and competition, and fosters innovation.

Wheeler said that in writing the new rules, the FCC “will look for opportunities to enhance Internet access competition.”

But two Republican commissioners on the five-member FCC panel object to the agency’s new plan. Michael O’Rielly said in a separate statement he is “deeply concerned … that the FCC will begin considering new ways to regulate the Internet.” O’Rielly’s view is that the agency doesn’t have legal authority in this area and there is no evidence that consumers are unable to get access to the content of their choice.

Commissioner Ajit Pai said that instead of proposing new rules, Wheeler should seek guidance from Congress. The Internet is free and open as it stands today and net neutrality “has always been a solution in search of a problem,” Pai said in his statement.

Comcast Corp., the nation’s No. 1 pay TV and Internet provider, praised Wheeler’s decision. The FCC chairman “has taken a thoughtful approach which creates a path for enforceable rules,” Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s vice president for government affairs, said in a statement.

USTelecom, a trade group that represents telephone companies, said it welcomed Wheeler’s move but also urged the FCC to work carefully on the rules. The regulations “will have a direct impact on the nature of the Internet, the development of new service offerings, technological innovation and broadband investment,” said USTelecom president Walter McCormick.