WASHINGTON (CN) - The Federal Communications Commission lacks the authority to ban broadband providers from filtering certain types of Internet traffic, the D.C. Circuit ruled on Tuesday. The ruling strikes down the FCC's attempt to force "net neutrality" on Comcast and other Internet providers.
The FCC's action stemmed from complaints that the nation's largest cable company was interfering with customers' use of peer-to-peer networking programs, which hog significant amounts of bandwidth.
The agency told Comcast to change its method of bandwidth management, saying the interference "contravene[d] ... federal policy." The FCC ordered Comcast to outline the details of its new approach and update the government on its implementation progress.
The cable company appealed, claiming, among other things, that the FCC has no jurisdiction over its management practices.
The federal appeals court rejected the FCC's "theory of ancillary authority" based its obligations under the Communications Act of 1934, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and congressional policy.
Congress' policy is "to promote the continued development of the Internet" and "to encourage the development of technologies which maximize user control over what information is received by individuals, families, and schools who use the Internet," according to the ruling.
The FCC said it can't fulfill those goals without requiring broadcast providers to treat all Internet traffic equally.
"Not only is this argument flatly inconsistent with [Supreme Court precedent], but it if accepted it would virtually free the Commission from its congressional tether," Judge David Tatel wrote for the three-judge panel.
The court vacated the FCC's order, concluding that the agency "has failed to tie its assertion of ancillary authority over Comcast's Internet service to any 'statutorily mandated responsibility.'"
The ruling means that broadband providers could slow access to certain types of content, such as video, or charge more for heavy bandwidth users.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.