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Court Upholds Net Neutrality: What That Means for You

Net neutrality rules for broadband internet service providers (ISPs) and wireless data carriers are here to stay. A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday (June 14) that Verizon, Charter and other broadband ISPs, as well as mobile data carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile, must follow rules that the Federal Communications Commission approved in February 2015. The rules classify internet access as a utility, like landline telephone service, and the reclassification protects customers from unfair practices from their ISPs and wireless carriers.

Credit: izzet ugutmen / Shutterstock

(Image credit: izzet ugutmen / Shutterstock)

The 2-to-1 ruling (really 2 1/2 to 1, as the third judge partly concurred) by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld FCC rules that forbid ISPs from blocking or slowing traffic; from making "fast lanes," or giving data from certain content providers traffic priority over data from other providers; and from "zero rating" mobile data, in which carriers make streaming data from certain content providers "free" for customers by not counting that data against customers' monthly data limits.

The rules affect both broadband ISPs, such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and wireless carriers, including Sprint, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile. The latter's Binge On video streaming service is a prime example of zero rating.

MORE: What Is Net Neutrality?

You can read the full decision here.

Before last year, broadband ISPs and wireless data providers were treated more like cable-television companies, which for the most part have wide discretion about which TV channels they can provide to customers. (It helped that most broadband ISPs began as cable-TV providers.)

In the short term, this is great news for consumers. The Washington Post points out that the ruling will give the FCC an opportunity to begin putting the rules in place and enforcing them. With internet providers now regulated in a similar fashion as phone companies, customers can look forward to an open internet with no specific customers or companies receiving priority for their data.

The long-term view is murkier. The plaintiffs, which include the trade groups representing wireless carriers and broadband ISPs, can request another hearing with the D.C. Circuit Court, but they could also appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"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 told the Post.

It will be a long, drawn-out legal battle with a ton of money involved before anything is set in stone. But for now, net neutrality is winning, and that's good for you and your home broadband and wireless internet services.

[via Washington Post]