AT&T could be punished for unlimited data throttling after allEnlarge (credit: Getty Images | ljhimages)
AT&T has been dealt a blow in its attempt to avoid all regulatory oversight from the Federal Trade Commission, and the court decision could also play an important role in the debates over net neutrality and broadband privacy rules.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai yesterday welcomed the court decision and said it strengthens his argument that net neutrality rules should be overturned.
The background of this one takes a little explaining, but Ars readers are probably familiar with the details. The FTC sued AT&T in October 2014, seeking refunds for customers who paid for unlimited data but were throttled once they used either 3GB or 5GB each month.

The FTC is barred from regulating common carriers, a classification that has applied to AT&T’s phone service for more than 80 years under Title II of the Communications Act.

But AT&T has various lines of business, some of which are not classified as common carriage, and the FTC said it could punish AT&T for transgressions related to its non-common carrier businesses. (Internet service was not yet classified as common carriage when the FTC sued AT&T.)
AT&T’s argument was accepted in an August 2016 ruling by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which said that “Because AT&T was a common carrier, it cannot be liable for the violations alleged by the FTC.” The ruling could have had effects beyond AT&T, as it called into question the FTC’s ability to regulate any company that offers at least some common carrier services.
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