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Advocates for Internet Freedom: Appeals Court Strikes "Huge Blow"

PHOTO: Newly-appointed FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler, shown here at a town hall meeting in Oakland, Calif., last week, says his agency may appeal a federal court ruling overturning regulations aimed at ensuring 'net neutrality.' Photo credit: Mark Scheerer.
PHOTO: Newly-appointed FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler, shown here at a town hall meeting in Oakland, Calif., last week, says his agency may appeal a federal court ruling overturning regulations aimed at ensuring 'net neutrality.' Photo credit: Mark Scheerer.
January 15, 2014

WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court has struck down Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules that required Internet service providers to give all traffic equal access through their networks. The ruling means broadband providers such as Verizon could charge content providers, such as Netflix or ESPN, higher prices for faster download speeds, creating Internet "fast lanes."

Josh Levy, Internet campaign director for the watchdog group Free Press, said Verizon revealed a broader goal in its court arguments in the case against the FCC.

"It actually said that it has the right to treat the Internet as a newspaper, and it would be the editor of that newspaper," said Levy, "and it would have the right to block or not block whatever content flows over its pipes."

In response to the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Levy said, "We think this is a huge blow to all Internet users, who can now expect Internet service providers to block any content on the Internet, at will. And right now, there's no 'cop on the beat' that will be able to stop them from doing so."

The FCC's new commissioner, Tom Wheeler, has said the agency might appeal the ruling.

In the case, the court acknowledged that the FCC has the authority "to promulgate rules governing broadband providers' treatment of Internet traffic." Levy said this gives the agency a chance to rewrite the provisions.

"They were struck down because they weren't passed in the right way." Levy said, "and so, what we need is for the FCC to pass strong protections for Internet users in the right way."

Levy said he thinks a public outcry to protect net neutrality - similar to one that nearly brought the Internet to a halt over proposed legislation known as "SOPA" - could be another reaction. Two years ago this week, Wikipedia, Google and hundreds of other websites coordinated a one-day Internet blackout in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act, which was a Congressional effort to fight copyright infringement and counterfeiting.

SOPA was seen as a threat to Internet freedom. Levy believes this week's court ruling will be viewed in the same way.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA