WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission won't appeal a court decision tossing out its Internet neutrality rules and will try again to craft regulations to ensure open access to the Internet that would stand up to expected legal challenges, agency Chairman Tom Wheeler said Wednesday.
The FCC won't take the controversial step of formally designating high-speed Internet service for the type of tougher regulation faced by phone companies — a move many consumer groups have advocated — but Wheeler said he will keep that option open “to utilize if warranted.”
“The Internet is and must remain the greatest engine of free expression, innovation, economic growth and opportunity the world has ever known,” Wheeler said. “We must preserve and promote the Internet.”
Last month's court decision provided the FCC with guidance about how it could rewrite the rules so they won't get tossed out again, Wheeler said.
But this will be the third time the agency has tried to come up with regulations to prevent Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against some Web content, such as Netflix, that competes with the providers' own services.
Twice before, federal judges have struck down the FCC's approach after challenges from Internet providers. The most recent challenge was by Verizon Communications, which went to court to stop the agency's 2010 net neutrality order.
“Today's announcement reminds me of the movie 'Groundhog Day,' “ said FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of two Republicans on the Democratic-controlled panel.
“The Internet was free and open before the FCC adopted net neutrality rules. It remains free and open today,” he said. “Net neutrality has always been a solution in search of a problem.”
Republicans have opposed the FCC's attempts to enact such rules, arguing that the Internet has thrived because it has been free from government regulation.
But Democrats, including President Barack Obama and his newly appointed FCC chief, Wheeler, strongly support net neutrality.
Last month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed out the FCC's so-called open-Internet rules. The court said the agency did not have the authority to enforce the rules on Internet service providers because it did not classify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service.