Internet freedom is an idea most people would call important but it is equally important that we do not begin to think of Internet access as an entitlement. A ruling by a federal appeals court is a step, at least temporarily, in the right direction toward keeping the Internet free from government control and overregulation.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Federal Communications Commission overstepped its jurisdiction by reprimanding Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable television company and Internet service provider, for deliberately slowing Internet traffic for specific users in 2008. Comcast appealed the sanctions levied by the FCC, and the court found in its favor and ruled that the FCC lacked the authority to punish Comcast for violating FCC “Net neutrality” policy.
But the battle is likely far from over.
Net neutrality has become a hot issue that evokes a variety of sentiments and concerns about Web accessibility. As we have editorialized before, the phrase itself is ingratiating. Net neutrality rules proposed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski last September would be designed to “prohibit Internet service providers from interfering with the free flow of information” over the networks they own and operate. Proposed rules also would prohibit ISPs, like Comcast, Cox or Time Warner, from “slowing or blocking certain services or content flowing through their vast networks.” Both President Barack Obama and Obama appointee Genachowski have made Net neutrality a priority.
The average Web surfer might argue that the FCC’s attempted regulation of Internet service providers is necessary because it would stop the providers from limiting bandwidth, ostensibly treating all Web traffic equally. In theory, Internet users would have more freedom to download music, video and enjoy other services. But the reality is people vary in the amount of time they use the Internet and the bandwidth they use, which can impact Internet experiences for other users. Popular Web sites like Youtube.com and Hulu.com, which offer video, and music downloading sites take far greater resources from providers’ networks.
FCC meddling in the way Internet service providers do business is a slippery slope for a variety of reasons. It’s inappropriate for the FCC to get involved with the nitty-gritty of an Internet service provider’s business. Even more disconcerting, if the FCC can regulate how companies provide access to the Internet, does that mean the government has the authority to regulate content on the Internet, like China does?
The D.C. Circuit court made the right call in this case, but the Obama administration and this Congress will likely move forward in seeking to regulate the Internet. Technology consultant Larry Downes wrote on these pages April 4 that the FCC indicated that if it lost this court case, it might reclassify Internet services as subject to the same broad FCC regulatory power as old-fashioned telephone companies.
It’s in the Web user’s best interest to oppose such efforts every step of the way. — From the Orange County Register, a Freedom Communications newspaper