Advocates for Internet Freedom say appeals court strikes "huge blow"

Newly-appointed FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler, shown here at a town hall meeting last week, says his agency may appeal a federal court ruling overturning regulations aimed at ensuring 'net neutrality.' Photo credit: Mark Scheerer.

It’s being called a “huge blow to all Internet users.” A federal court ruled this week in favor of Verizon, striking down Federal Communications Commission rules that regulate the Web. The ruling means broadband providers like Verizon could charge content providers such as Netflix or ESPN higher prices for faster download speeds, creating Internet “fast lanes.” Josh Levy, of 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 says, “and it would have the right to block or not block whatever content flows over its pipes.”

The FCC’s new commissioner, Tom Wheeler, said 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.

Levy responded to the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“We think this is a huge blow to all Internet users,” he continues, “who can now expect Internet service providers to block any content on the Internet, at will. 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 says this gives the agency a chance to rewrite the provisions.

“They were struck down because they weren’t passed in the right way. 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 government effort to fight copyright infringement and counterfeiting. SOPA was seen as a threat to Internet freedom. Josh Levy says this week’s court ruling will be viewed in the same way.

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