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Net neutrality rules get go-ahead

Internet service providers (ISPs) in the US will not be allowed to block or slow some internet traffic while allowing others to pay for 'fast lanes', after a ruling by a US Court of Appeals. 12 Jun 2015

A challenge by ISPs attempting to stay the Open Internet rules proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did not satisfy the requirements for a hold on the rules, the court said, according to the Financial Times.

However, the court did agree to a review of the case, which both the FCC and its opponents have called for.

Open internet, or net neutrality, is the principle that ISPs treat all internet content equally when delivering it to customers.

In March, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a 313-page document outlining its rules on net neutrality. The FCC reclassified broadband as a 'Title II telecommunications service' under the 1934 Communications Act. This made internet service providers (ISPs) subject to the same regulations as telephone networks, although the FCC flagged up many areas where broadband will be exempt.

The reclassification allowed the FCC to enforce three rules on ISPs: no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritisation.

ISPs will be unable to block lawful content, applications, or services on non-harmful devices; they will not be able to slow down specific applications or services; and they will not be able to accept fees for better service or 'internet fast lanes', CNET said in an analysis of the situation.

ISPs criticised the rules and said that they could harm investment in networks.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association lobby group issued a statement after today's decision: "While being granted a stay is always a long shot, we are pleased that the Court has agreed to expedite the review of our appeal of the FCC’s misguided decision to impose utility-style regulation on Internet networks. We are now ready to get to the merits of the case and are confident as ever that we will prevail."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said: "This is a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators. 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. The rules also give broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks."

The European Union is also looking at net neutrality. A report by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) on its study into how consumers value 'net neutrality' said this week that that there could be positive or negative impacts on competition if 'specialised services' become more prevalent in the internet access market. 'Specialised services' refers to the delivery by ISPs of content and applications at an enhanced quality, paid for by providers.