On Tuesday, a federal appeals court dealt a legal setback to supporters of “net neutrality.”  The court ruled (Comcast v. FCC) that the FCC does not presently have the authority to control an ISP’s network management practices and therefore cannot require Comcast (one of a small number of powerful corporations whose networks comprise the Internet) to treat all internet content equally.

Net Neutrality advocates (NCAC among them) favor government regulation in the interest of insuring the free flow of information and in support of equal Internet access for all. The lack of net neutrality legislation opens the possibility for the establishment of a two- (or more) tiered system based on levels of payment, or – worse – the political judgments of the private companies who own the networks.  In opposing government regulation opponents of the net neutrality effectively support corporate control of the Internet.

In September, Chair Julius Genachowski of the FCC announced his commission’s support of the net neutrality principle, which it reiterated in its promulgation of the U.S. National Broadband Plan last month.  But Tuesday’s ruling cast doubt on the legal basis of the FCC’s approach  and thus of its ability to promote net neutrality.

Genachowski continues to push strongly for it nonetheless.  In a statement released by the FCC yesterday, he said, “The court decision earlier this week does not change our broadband policy goals, or the ultimate authority of the FCC to act to achieve those goals. The court did not question the FCC’s goals; it merely invalidated one technical, legal mechanism for broadband policy chosen by prior Commissions.”

The FCC’s options in the wake of the ruling include reclassifying broadband Internet service from a lightly regulated information service to a “common carrier” public service. As such, broadband Internet service will be subject to nondiscrimination rules which have historically been formulated for basic service systems on which the public depends, including roads, highways, telephone networks and electrical supply grids.