A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out Federal Communications Commission rules that require Internet service providers to give all traffic equal access through their networks.
Although it acknowledged that the F.C.C. has some authority to regulate Internet service, the court said Tuesday that the commission overstepped its authority when it imposed anti-discrimination rules on Internet service providers, because the commission had previously exempted those companies from that type of regulation.
The decision, by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was the second case the F.C.C. had lost before the appeals court over its authority to regulate Internet service providers.
The ruling means that, under current law, broadband companies can offer Internet content providers — ESPN or Facebook, for example — faster service to deliver their content to consumers, at a price.
It is unclear how the F.C.C. will respond. The commission could overcome the ruling if it decided to reclassify Internet service as a utility, much like telephone or electric service. Consumer groups have advocated for that solution, but the commission has faced fierce opposition from Congress and heavy lobbying by broadband providers against doing so.