A federal appeals court on Friday challenged regulators to defend a series of strict new rules for Internet providers, asking them why it should allow the controversial regulations to stand in spite of an industry lawsuit that’s become the centerpiece of a highly-charged battle over the future of the Internet.
Dozens of court-watchers began lining up before dawn to hear the case, with some having spent the night in frigid temperatures outside the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Heavy turnout led the court to open up an overflow room for other spectators. Inside the courtroom itself, a three-judge panel peppered agency and industry lawyers with probing questions in a roughly three-hour debate.
The stakes for the Federal Communications Commission are high. Friday marked the third time the agency has appeared before the court in recent years to justify regulating Internet providers more heavily. At issue is the FCC’s net neutrality rules — which prevented Internet providers from slowing down or blocking Web content that they do not like, or even charging Web sites a fee for reaching Internet users faster.