The FCC on Wednesday ruled that satellite internet providers (SIPs) cannot offer “real-life” broadband internet services to customers in the US.
The FCC ruling came after a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against a SIP company called Frontier Communications, which is based in San Francisco.
Frontier had previously sued the FCC over its net neutrality rules, which required internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all data on their networks the same, even if it was transmitted over the internet.
In September, the FCC voted to uphold the agency’s net neutrality order, but the ruling meant that ISPs were now subject to strict rules about how they can prioritize internet traffic, including blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.
A separate lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) alleged that Frontier had engaged in “unprecedented and abusive conduct” by using the internet as a platform to discriminate against the ACLU’s Free Speech Coalition and other online advocacy groups.
“The FCC’s decision today makes clear that it is now clear that Frontier has no intention of honoring its promise to consumers, that it’s willing to go further and impose an extreme set of obligations that it cannot afford,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker said in a statement.
But, Frontier did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last month, the company was awarded $2.6 billion by the US government for its participation in the 2010-11 National Broadband Plan, which aims to create “a national network of high-speed internet and mobile broadband” that is “fully interoperable, affordable, and reliable”.
The internet service provider’s use of its own network for internet access is now considered illegal in the country, and is a violation of net neutrality.
Since then, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that internet service is a public utility and must be treated as such, which the FCC has argued should be the case regardless of the location of the customer’s home.
On Wednesday, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which covers the southern part of the US, said that Frontier must provide broadband to consumers in the form of a service that is not classified as a “common carrier”.
“This is an important victory for consumer broadband,” EFF Legal Director Mitch Stoltzfus said in an email.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to reclassify internet service as a common carrier has been met with fierce criticism from consumers and internet service industry groups.
“We believe that the Federal Communication Commission is wrong to impose unnecessary restrictions on broadband service providers and should simply leave it up to the states and local governments to decide whether to enact similar rules, rather than using the authority of the FCC to impose a blanket regulatory regime,” the US Electronic Privacy Information Center said in October.
Earlier this month, US District Judge Amos Mazzant, a Republican, upheld a lawsuit filed against Frontier by the ACLU.
However, the court also rejected the FCC’s argument that Frontier’s conduct was justified under the FCC rules, finding that Frontier failed to provide adequate notice that it would be providing “real world broadband” service.
The judge also rejected Frontier’s argument of a free and open internet as the reason for the FCC regulation.
More to come.