The FCC and Comcast got their day in court Friday afternoon on the net neutrality issue. A three-judge federal appeals court followed a line of questioning that seemed to favor Comcast, but a decision may not come for months.
The issue is whether Comcast violated FCC rules in blocking Bit Torrent traffic and, also, the broader issue of whether the FCC has the authority to restrict Comcast and other carriers supplying broadband. A back story in the complex issue is highlighted by carriers' complaints that consumers' growing usage of broadband is clogging networks.
"This case underscores the importance of the FCC's ongoing rulemaking to preserve the free and open Internet," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement. "I remain confident the commission possesses the legal authority it needs and look forward to reviewing the court's decision when it issues."
Comcast attorney Helgi Walker said the FCC's effort to challenge the cable firm was "a policy statement" and, as such, was not enough for the FCC to reprimand Comcast for seeking to control the flow of Internet traffic over its network. She told the judges: "You can free us of this black mark on our record."
If the decision goes against the FCC, it will still have the option of going to Congress to seek new legislation to deal with the net neutrality issue.
Referring to the FCC's action against Comcast In court Friday, Judge David Sentelle said: "You can't get an unbridled, roving commission to go about doing good." Judge Raymond Randolph said the FCC has not identified any specific statute to support its net neutrality position.
Public interest groups are siding with FCC in the case. "The critical importance of this case lies in the precedent set by the FCC in its first action to enforce net neutrality," said Free Press policy director Ben Scott, in a statement. "If this decision is upheld, it will mark a turning point in telecommunications law and bolster the agency's current move to make its network neutrality principles into much-needed rules."