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Next Threat to Internet: Fast Lanes for $ome?

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GRAPHIC: A federal court this week heard arguments in a case that some say could lead to the end of "net neutrality," letting service providers offer higher speeds to wealthy content providers and potentially creating “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” on the Internet. Courtesy Free Press.
GRAPHIC: A federal court this week heard arguments in a case that some say could lead to the end of "net neutrality," letting service providers offer higher speeds to wealthy content providers and potentially creating “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” on the Internet. Courtesy Free Press.
September 11, 2013

NEW YORK - A federal appeals court heard arguments this week from Verizon, which would benefit if it and other Internet service providers could start charging fees to content providers to reach some customers through faster speeds.

This idea of an Internet "fast lane" would create an uneven playing field in the eyes of the Federal Communications Commission, which says established, deep-pockets companies such as Facebook and Google would have an edge over small startups. That could prevent the next Google or Facebook from succeeding.

Jen Yeh, a policy council for the advocacy group Free Press who was in the courtroom, said the three-judge panel could do away with what's called the Open Internet Order.

"It prevents content providers from paying for priority access to get to users," she said. "It prevents a tiered system of superhighways for the rich and slow speedways for the poor."

Most observers felt that by their questioning, two of the three judges leaned toward freeing Verizon from some of the control the FCC has over it.

If this case results in the FCC losing some of its regulatory authority over the Internet, said amalia deloney, policy director for the Center for Media Justice, it could lead to voices of dissent and the disenfranchised being blocked from the Web.

"We need to be able to have groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War be able to express their anti-war views within the current debate between the president and Congress on Syria," she said.

Yeh said it isn't hard to imagine what would happen if Internet service providers were freed from the FCC's current oversight.

"There will be no government oversight of our communications network, and corporations will retain control over what content we see, how much we pay for that content," she said. "In other words, our Internet will start to look a lot more like our cable system."

Critics also say added costs would be passed on to consumers. The case could be decided late this year or early next year.

More details are online at fsrn.org.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY