“The FCC’s ‘net neutrality’ hopes are nothing more than public utility regulation for broadband,” Harper said in a statement. “If they get that authority, your online experience will be a little more like dealing with the water company or the electric company and a little less like using the internet.”

In public meetings beginning last fall, FCC commissioners have laid out the case for government intervention in expanding web access to all Americans. Michael Copps, a Democratic FCC commissioner, said that not every telecommunications company would charge exorbitant fees for web access if net-neutrality rules weren’t passed, but some corporations would take advantage of the lack of regulation.

“I’m not into riverboat gambles that everything will be fine if we just look the other way,” Copps said. “The potential power of this technology is awesome. It can do so much good. Misused, it can fail itself and fail us all.”

Broadband providers such as Comcast, AT&T Inc., and Verizon Communications Inc. argue that after spending billions of dollars on their networks, they should be able to manage their systems to offer premium services and prevent high-bandwidth applications such as BitTorrent from hogging capacity and slowing the network for everyone else.

For its part, the FCC offered no details on its next step other than to stress that it remains committed to the principle of net neutrality.

“Today’s court decision invalidated the prior commission’s approach to preserving an open internet,” the agency’s statement said. “But the court in no way disagreed with the importance of preserving a free and open internet; nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end.”