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“This decision is a blow to the principles of fairness and competition that our innovation economy is built on ,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat. “[T]his ruling puts the reins of power in the hands of telecom conglomerates, allowing them to create fast and slow lanes on a tiered Internet.”

Ms. Cantwell, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said she would pursue a legislative change to the regulations.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, applauded the decision, saying the FCC “overstepped its authority.”

“I have long opposed efforts that would allow the government to regulate the Internet, and today’s decision is a win for consumers and broadband innovation,” he said.

The three-judge panel ruled that the FCC could not regulate the broadband industry under laws that did not apply to that industry. The court also threw out an FCC rule that barred providers from blocking Internet traffic outright.

“Given that the commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the commission from nonetheless regulating them as such,” the court’s decision said.

The court documents list several examples of concerns shared by net neutrality advocates, including access to media websites. In one example, activists warn that a provider such as Comcast could limit traffic to major news sites while redirecting users to its own aggregated news page or could control traffic for politically oriented sites such as MSNBC or Fox News.

The court ruling “means that Internet users will be pitted against the biggest phone and cable companies — and in the absence of any oversight, these companies can now block and discriminate against their customers’ communications at will,” said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, an advocacy group supporting net neutrality.

“The biggest broadband providers will race to turn the open and vibrant Web into something that looks like cable TV,” he said. “They’ll establish fast lanes for the few giant companies that can afford to pay exorbitant tolls and reserve the slow lanes for everyone else.”

Mr. Aaron blamed former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski — who served during President Obama’s first term — for gutting several broadband regulations and putting the agency’s oversight authority on shaky legal ground.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said the ruling could harm innovation online.

“Network neutrality is a bedrock principle of the Internet, one that has allowed it to grow and flourish into the ultimate marketplace of ideas,” he said. “It is crucial that the Internet remain a place where a better idea, product or service can succeed on its merits, not based on a financial relationship with a broadband provider.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, called the ruling a “victory for America’s innovators and the free market” and said she has long opposed the “socialistic regulations.”

“Instead of putting in place more rules that restrict our freedom, this administration should be working with Congress to enact solutions that encourage more innovation and job creation,” she said.

The five-member FCC under Mr. Obama had three Democratic and two Republican members, and the panel itself divided on partisan lines Tuesday.

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