Published On: Fri, Jan 24th, 2014

Commentary… Internet freedom advocates: Appeals court strikes ‘huge blow to all net users’

By Dan Heyman

It’s being called a huge blow to all Internet users. A federal court ruled last

Tuesday in favor of Verizon, striking down Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules that regulate the Web.

The ruling means Verizon and other broadband providers 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, says in its court arguments in the case against the FCC, Verizon revealed a broader goal.

“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 relates. “And it would have the right to block or not block whatever content flows over its pipes.” The FCC’s new chairman, Tom Wheeler, says the agency might appeal the ruling.

Levy says the court’s decision opens the door to the FCC drafting new and different rules. He also thinks a public outcry to protect net neutrality – like that which nearly brought the Internet to a halt two years ago over proposed legislation called SOPA – could be another reaction.

“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 says of the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. “And 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 maintains this gives the agency a chance to rewrite the provisions. “They were struck down because they weren’t passed in the right way,” he explains. “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 congressional effort to fight copyright infringement and counterfeiting. SOPA was seen as a threat to Internet freedom. Levy says this week’s court ruling will be viewed in the same way.