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Key provision of net-neutrality law struck down by court

net neutralityKey provision of net-neutrality law struck down by court

Should internet service providers be allowed to restrict access to websites and block certain content from customers depending on how much they pay to be connected? On Tuesday, a federal appeals court said yes.

That ruling was handed down early Tuesday by way of a 2-1  decision in the United States Court of Appeals for the District  Columbia Circuit in Washington, DC, and those who’ve been  following the case closely say this week’s decision could have  colossal consequences for the way Americans access the internet.
Appellate judges were tasked with weighing whether or not the US  Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, has jurisdiction with  regards to regulating how ISPs deliver content to internet  customers.
The Open Internet Order adopted by the FCC in 2010 include  net-neutrality rules requiring broadband service providers to  give consumers equal access to all lawful content on the web, but  telecom giant Verizon argued in court that federal regulators  erroneously awarded themselves the ability to enforce that law.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the three-panel appeals court agreed with  Verizon and said the FCC had classified broadband service  providers in a manner that excludes ISPs from the anti-blocking  and anti-discrimination requirements instilled through the Open  Internet Order.
With the drafting of the Open Internet Order, the FCC imposed  restrictions on broadband service providers akin to the rules in  place for “common carriers,” such as telephone and transportation  companies that provide vital services to the public.  Centuries-old law requires common carriers to not discriminate  when it comes to critical to the public operations, and although  the FCC has imposed these requirements on internet companies it  has failed to classify them as such. Instead, the FCC classified  such companies as “information-service providers.”

“[E]ven though the Commission has general authority to  regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements that  contravene express statutory mandates,” the court ruled.   “Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband  providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common  carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the  Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such. Because the  Commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination  and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier  obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet  Order.”

PC World’s Brad Chacos wrote that this decision “holds  tremendous portent for the future of the internet,” and     Gigaom’s Jeff John Roberts called the ruling a   “game-changer.”

More succinctly,   Reuters journalists reported on Tuesday that the appellate  court’s ruling effectively means that “mobile carriers and  other broadband providers may reach agreements for faster access  to specific content crossing their networks.”

According to Reuters, attorneys for Verizon argued last September  that the net-neutrality rules imposed through the Open Internet  Order violated the company’s right to free speech because it  stripped control of what data it sends across its network and  how.
Following Monday’s ruling, however, Verizon general counsel  Randal Milch released a statement suggesting that the company  won’t use the court’s decision to censor content to customers.
“Today’s decision will not change consumers’ ability to access  and use the Internet as they do now,” Milch said. “Verizon has  been and remains committed to the open Internet which provides  consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful  websites and content when, where, and how they want. This will  not change in light of the court’s decision.”
Meanwhile opponents of the court’s decision say companies like  Verizon and other ISPs will now be awarded broad new abilities  when it comes to delivering content which could indeed limit who  has access to what.

“Its ruling means that Internet users will be pitted against  the biggest phone and cable companies — and in the absence of any  oversight, these companies can now block and discriminate against  their customers’ communications at will,” Craig Aaron, the  CEO of consumer advocacy group   Free Press, said in a statement released Tuesday.

“Verizon,” Aaron added, “…will race to turn the open  and vibrant web into something that looks like cable TV. They’ll  establish fast lanes for the few giant companies that can afford  to pay exorbitant tolls and reserve the slow lanes for everyone  else.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to appeal the ruling, and said  Tuesday that he’s “committed to maintaining our networks as  engines for economic growth, test beds for innovative services  and products, and channels for all forms of speech protected by  the First Amendment.”


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