WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the government's "net neutrality" rules that require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally.
The 2-1 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is a win for the Obama administration, consumer groups and content companies such as Netflix that want to prevent online content from being blocked or channeled into fast and slow lanes.
The rules treat broadband service like a public utility and prevent internet service providers from offering preferential treatment to sites that pay for faster service.
The ruling drew praise from some quarters, with the NY Tech Alliance, a nonprofit group, saying the decision means that high-speed internet service can be defined as a utility.
"This decision will lead to greater consumer choice and more rapid technical and business innovation," Erik Grimmelmann, President of the NY Tech Alliance, said in a statement. "We heartily agree that today, internet service is essential for all members of society and is indeed a utility."
The Federal Communications Commission argued that the rules are crucial for allowing customers to go anywhere on the internet without a provider favoring its own service over that of other competitors. The FCC's move to reclassify broadband came after President Barack Obama publicly urged the commission to protect consumers by regulating internet service as it does other public utilities.
Cable and telecom opponents argue the new rules will prevent them from recovering costs for connecting to broadband hogs like Netflix that generate a huge amount of internet traffic. Providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T say the rules threaten innovation and undermine investment in broadband infrastructure.
But Judges David Tatel and Sri Srinivasan denied all challenges to the new rules, including claims that the FCC could not reclassify mobile broadband as a common carrier. That extends the reach of the new rules as more people view content on mobile devices.
Judge Stephen Williams dissented in part and said he would have struck down the rules.
The industry had argued that broadband was an information service, and the FCC didn't have the authority to change in which camp it fell. But the court ruled that the FCC was justified in reclassifying broadband as a telecom utility because consumers see broadband as a pipe for internet service and use it mostly to get to websites and apps.
The same appeals court previously had struck down the FCC's efforts to enforce net neutrality twice before. The latest decision is expected to be appealed.