FCC to rewrite net neutrality rules, won’t appeal court ruling

The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday it will rewrite sweeping broadband Internet rules known as net neutrality, ending a legal battle that has thrown into question the agency’s ability to protect consumers on the Web.

The FCC said new rules will ban Internet service providers such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable from blocking Web sites or charging a firm like Netflix more for faster and smoother delivery of content.

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The move comes after a federal appeals court last month vacated the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet rules. The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the agency overstepped its authority with the rules but also noted that the agency has some oversight over the broadband industry.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency won’t appeal the court’s decision, adding that the court opinion allows for the agency to rewrite net neutrality rules that conform with communications laws.

“I intend to accept that invitation by proposing rules that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet Service Providers manage traffic, and enhancing competition,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency.”

The move is Wheeler’s first major decision as he grapples with the agency’s ability to regulate broadband Internet firms under laws written for the telephone age. The legal limbo of the FCC has become a focal point for consumers, Internet entrepreneurs and advocates of free speech who say the Internet has become a utility like the phone as more homes use it as a main source of entertainment, news and communications.

Consumer groups have urged Wheeler, a former top lobbyist for cable and wireless firms, to reclassify broadband like a utility phone service, giving the FCC clear permission to create rules for the Internet. Without reclassification of broadband Internet, they say the FCC will continue to be exposed to lawsuits. Verizon Communications brought the initial challenge to the FCC’s rules in 2011.

After public comments, new rules are expected to be complete by spring or summer, a senior FCC official said.

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