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Advocates for Internet Freedom say 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 - In what's being called a "huge blow to all Internet users," a federal court ruled Tuesday in favor of Verizon, striking down Federal Communications Commission rules that regulate the Web.

The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia 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," Levy said. "It would have the right to block or not block whatever content flows over its pipes."

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

The court's decision opens the door to the FCC drafting new and different rules, said Levy, adding that he thinks a public outcry to protect net neutrality - such as that which nearly brought the Internet to a halt two years ago over the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA - could be another reaction.

"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," Levy said. "Right now, there's no 'cop on the beat' that will be able to stop them from doing so."

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

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

Two years ago this week, Wikipedia, Google and hundreds of other websites coordinated a one-day Internet blackout in opposition to SOPA, a government effort to fight copyright infringement and counterfeiting. SOPA was seen as a threat to Internet freedom. Levy said this week's court ruling will be viewed in the same way.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI