A federal appeals court declined to halt implementation of tough new net neutrality regulations, paving the way for the rules to go into effect Friday.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied petitions Thursday for a temporary stay made by AT&T Inc. and other opponents of the online traffic rules in separate lawsuits.
In allowing the rules to take effect, the court granted a request for an expedited review of the suits.
"This is a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators," said Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, which approved the controversial rules in February. "Starting Friday, there will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair and open."
But the fight isn't over, said Meredith Attwell-Baker, president of CTIA-The Wireless Assn., a trade group.
"The case is just beginning and the stakes are high," she said. "The U.S. is the world's leader in the deployment and adoption of wireless broadband, due in large measure to decades of light-touch regulation."
The regulations, proposed by Wheeler and publicly backed by President Obama, prohibit broadband providers from blocking, slowing or selling faster delivery of legal content flowing through their networks to consumers.
Twice before courts have thwarted the FCC's efforts to establish net neutrality rules. So this time the FCC decided to classify high-speed Internet as a telecommunications service under Title 2 of the federal Communications Act, subjecting it to utility-like oversight and giving the agency more enforcement authority.
Wheeler has promised a light-handed approach, and the rules exempt broadband providers from rate regulation and other more onerous provisions of Title 2 that apply to conventional phone service providers.
But companies have complained that the door is open for tougher regulation, which they warn would hinder investment in expanded networks.
Among those who have filed a legal challenge to the rules are AT&T, CTIA, the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., CenturyLink Inc., the American Cable Assn., U.S. Telecom and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Assn.