Court strikes down FCC rules, threatening “net neutrality”

The U.S. Court of Appeals struck down the “net neutrality” rules established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week in the case of Verizon v. FCC. Net neutrality is the policy that required broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic equally regardless of the source or consumer.

The Preserving the Open Internet order – which was adopted by the FCC in December, 2010 – mandated broadband providers disclose information regarding their network and services, prohibited blocking lawful content, and forbade “unreasonable discrimination” regarding data or services. Many advocacy groups and progressive politicians at the time criticized the rules for not going far enough to limit corporate control of the Internet.

The FCC website states, “the ‘Open Internet’ is the Internet as we know it. It’s open because it uses free, publicly available standards that anyone can access and build to, and it treats all traffic that flows across the network in roughly the same way.”

Verizon, one of the big cable television and telephone monopolies that provide broadband Internet access, appealed the FCC ruling, leading to this week’s decision.

Tuesday’s ruling effectively allows Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Time Warner Cable, Verizon, etc. to make deals with content providers like Netflix or Facebook to provide faster or more reliable service. Broadband providers could even block or limit Internet content that competed with the providers own services or with their media partners. The Court ruled that the FCC had no jurisdiction to regulate ISPs but upheld transparency rules and the commission’s ability “to promulgate rules governing broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic.”

A wide range of organizations, businesses and individuals from across the political spectrum have spoken out against the ruling. Groups like the Free Press (which maintains the net neutrality clearinghouse Save the Internet), the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Voices for Internet Freedom, a coalition of organizations in communities of color fighting to protect the open Internet, have all noted the danger of the Court’s ruling.

Many labor and civil rights groups have supported the idea of the Internet as an essential utility and called for guaranteeing equal access and broadband development into under-served communities and regions.

Journalists and consumer advocates worry that big companies could gain great advantage in reaching consumers by paying for digital access lanes, leaving independent media stuck in digital gridlock.

Proponents of net neutrality say the implications could be even more dire, saying ISPs could also establish “tiered service,” slowing service for basic customers and giving priority to data for premier customers able and willing to pay for improved service.

As many people across the country turn to ISPs for phone service, news, and other essential services, the end of net neutrality could spell an end-run along public utility regulations that have existed in communications networks for nearly a century.

Consumer advocates have said this week that the FCC can still make new rules the ensure net neutrality and the continue to regulate ISPs as utility providers.

Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association, said in a press statement, “The court’s decision gives commercial companies the astounding legal authority to block Internet traffic, give preferential treatment to certain Internet services or applications, and steer users to or away from certain web sites based on their own commercial interests. This ruling, if it stands, will adversely affect the daily lives of Americans and fundamentally change the open nature of the Internet, where uncensored access to information has been a hallmark of the communication medium since its inception.”

Photo: Save the Internet blog


Libero Della Piana
Libero Della Piana

Libero Della Piana, the Senior Strategist at Just Strategy, has thirty years of experience as a writer and organizer for social movement organizations. His writing has been featured in such publications as The Forge, Colorlines, Black Commentator, and People's World. Libero was born and grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and lives in East Harlem, N.Y.