WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court on Tuesday overturned a Federal Communications Commission ruling that forced cable giant Comcast Corp. to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing through its network.

The decision strikes at the FCC’s ability to force so-called network neutrality on telecommunications companies.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the FCC overstepped its bounds and lacked direct statutory authority from Congress to regulate Internet traffic. Enacting network neutrality rules is a major priority of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who took over in early 2009.

The court’s ruling also could pose legal problems for the FCC as it seeks to enact the expansive National Broadband Policy that it unveiled last month.

A spokesman for Genachowski would not say what the next steps would be for the FCC as advisers reviewed the court’s 36-page decision. Among the options would be to appeal the ruling, seek direct authority from Congress to regulate broadband or have the commission attempt to classify high-speed Internet service under existing law so it would be subject to the same type of regulation as telephone service.

Comcast cheered the decision and said it was committed to allowing its customers open access to the Internet.

“Our primary goal was always to clear our name and reputation,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, vice president of government communications. “Comcast remains committed to the FCC’s existing open-Internet principles.”

The case stems from a 3-2 ruling by the FCC in 2008 finding that Comcast, the nation’s largest provider of high-speed Internet, had improperly blocked some of its customers from using file-sharing technology. The FCC ruled that Comcast failed to tell subscribers it was blocking access to the BitTorrent technology, which allows users to more easily share online video, lied about the practice when confronted about it by the FCC, and had intended to cripple online video sites that compete with Comcast’s on-demand service.

Comcast said it was simply managing traffic on its network and that some customers using the file-sharing technology were slowing the network. Comcast challenged the FCC’s authority to regulate how the company managed its network.