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Organizations Fight to Restore Net Neutrality

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A recent court ruling has ended Net Neutrality for the time being, and activists say the FCC can act quickly to restore it.

 

 

"The ruling, in a case brought by Verizon against the F.C.C., concerns at its heart the basic question of whether Internet service is a utility of such vital importance, like telephone lines or electricity, that it needs to be regulated closely."  -Edward Wyatt, New York Times

 

Net Neutrality is a requirement that Internet service providers  (ISPs for short) not "play favorites" with content that is delivered through their networks.   Since 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the agency that has been tasked with enforcing Net Neutrality under a body of regulations known as the Open Internet Order.  

 

According to this body of rules, ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon (although notably NOT mobile broadband networks) are prohibited from blocking a website, application, service or device as long as it is legal.   They are also not allowed to provide preferential access to a specific website or service, and to prove compliance they must provide information about how they manage their networks.  

 

The problem with this system, say ISPs, is that broadband use has skyrocketed, and the companies like Verizon that must pay to upgrade and expand internet service want to open up new revenue streams by making deals with services that use a lot of bandwidth, like Netflix or Amazon, where those companies can to pay extra to for a "fast lane" to stream their content.  

 

To open up the possibility for these kinds of contracts, Verizon brought a lawsuit against the FCC, and in January 2014 the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that, since the internet is not considered a utility under federal law,  the FCC does not currently have the authority to prevent such proprietary agreements as outlined in the Open Internet Order.  However, the Court did say that the commission has jurisdiction over broadband access, and therefore has the authority “to promulgate rules governing broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic,”  as well require broadband companies to provide information about how they manage their networks.

 

Many activists believe that the Court's decision on Verizon v. FCC  was a major blow to Net Neutrality, and suggest that, if the decision stands and nothing is changed, in the near future internet content will be offered much like cable TV service is today, with a tiered fee structure providing users better access to preferred content providers.

 

Michael Weinberg, acting co-president of Public Knowledge, said following the Court's decision, “I would not be surprised if business development folks in I.S.P.’s around the country were now looking for ways to partner with content creators...” and as soon as deals are reached,  "make sure their unpartnered service is bad enough that a paid partnership is attractive."

 

Fight for the Future warns, "Starting right now, your Internet service provider can censor, throttle, and block content however they want, while corporate websites that can pay more will be blazing fast."

 

The Mozilla Foundation called the Court's decision "alarming for all Internet users.” 

 

On its website, the organization FreePress tells us what lies ahead: 

"Expect Internet blackouts that extend far beyond the popular content vendors, as smaller websites are caught in the crossfire. Tweets, emails and texts will be mysteriously delayed or dropped. Videos will load slowly, if at all. Websites will work fine one minute, and time out another. Your ISP will claim it’s not their fault, and you’ll have no idea who is to blame. You also won’t be able to vote with your feet and wallet, as there’s no competition in broadband, and all ISPs will be playing this game."

 

A Fix?

 

But, as Telecom Industry Expert Susan Crawford writes, "Rather than despair, this is a moment of opportunity."  The FCC has the power to reclassify Internet Service Providers as "common carrier" services like telephone and electric utilities.  Many activists argue that former FCC Chairman (now top cable industry lobbyist) Micheal Powell had misclassified these services years ago.  FreePress says "There is nothing in today’s court decision that prohibits the FCC from reversing those misguided decisions to not properly classify broadband Internet access services as common carriers services."

 
What You Can Do
 

Tell the FCC to Take Action restore Net Neutrality: 

 

Support these organizations working to re-establish Net Neutrality 

 

Tweet  @TomWheelerFCC and tell him to save #netneutrality.

 

Leave a message on FCC's Facebook Page demanding that they reclassify ISP's as common carriers to restore Net Neutrality.