Court case renews debate on US 'Open Internet' rules

Sep 15, 2013 by Rob Lever

Debate is back on in Washington on US regulations on "net neutrality" which bar Internet broadband providers from blocking or discriminating against services or content.

A court case for which arguments were held this month brought by Verizon, one of the largest Internet service providers, challenges the "Open Internet" rule approved in 2010 by the Federal Communications Commission.

The seemingly arcane rule, or changes to it, could have an important impact: some say it may determine whether fixed can control what services flow throw their networks.

"These rules provide an important safeguard both for innovation and investment on the Internet," said David Sohn, an attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology, which backs the FCC rules.

Sohn said that if Verizon has its way, it and other providers like Comcast or AT&T could "play favorites," by blocking or degrading services such as YouTube or Netflix to promote their own offerings or that of their partners.

"Every user every day benefits from this rule for the services they use, whether it's YouTube ot Twitter or something else," Sohn told AFP.

But Verizon and its allies argue the FCC lacks authority to interfere with their business, and that Congress never decided these companies were regulated utilities or "common carriers."

"It is not up to the FCC to decide these issues on its own," said Verizon lawyer Helgi Walker, arguing the case before the US Court of Appeals in Washington earlier this month.

"It has no implied authority, no express authority.. and it's highly unlikely that Congress would have delegated authority in such a convoluted way."

The FCC, in a 3-2 majority decision December 2010, said it imposed the rules to ensure that the Internet "has no gatekeepers limiting and communication through the network."

But participants at the appeals court hearing said two of the three judges appeared inclined to overturn the FCC rules, although the decision could stem from either jurisdictional or fundamental legal arguments.

Whatever the appeals court decides, the debate is likely to continue. Either side could appeal to the US Supreme Court, and the issue could end up in Congress, which has been divided on the issue.

Amid the US debate, the European Commission this month adopted a similar "" provision barring any blocking or throttling of competing or data-heavy services.

With the stakes high, Washington lobby groups on both sides have been ramping up their efforts.

"This affects most Americans who watch a move on Netflix or who make a phone call on Vonage," said Pantelis Michalopoulos, lawyer for parties arguing in support of the FCC rules.

Michalopoulos said companies like Verizon "have the incentive and ability to discriminate" against service and could, for example, degrade Netflix to the point where viewers would see blank screens.

But another Washington lawyer work works on tech issues, and who requested not to be cited because of clients he represents in the sector, said he did not believe service providers would try to dramatically reshape what flows through their networks.

"It would be commercially infeasible to offer an Internet service if you couldn't get to the big sites," the lawyer said.

More likely, the attorney said, would be deals mirroring what is taking place in the wireless space, which is not subject to the same rules, and where providers offer premium packages on an exclusive basis, such as NFL football games.

Firms like Verizon fear that if the FCC has its way, the agency would be in a position to more tightly regulate broadband as a public utility, which might mean regulating prices as well.

Scott Cleland at the advocacy group NetCompetition, which backs Verizon in the case, said overturning the FCC rules would bring free-market economics back to the Internet.

"Consumers would be able to pay less, not more for broadband, if consumers no longer were forced to shoulder the full broadband cost of Internet access by subsidizing the biggest edge companies like Netflix and Google-YouTube, which consume about half of the Internet's peak traffic," Cleland said on his blog.

But Jennifer Yeh at the advocacy group Free Press said in a blog post that the dangers are greater if Verizon overturns the rules.

"The FCC needs to restore its authority to ensure that network providers can't block or discriminate against any online content. Otherwise, we run the risk of the Internet going the way of cable—where the providers determine what content we see, charge us different prices based on what content we get, and extract tolls from Internet companies for delivering that content to users," she said.

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5 / 5 (1) Sep 15, 2013
If the rules of providing internet access are too onerous for Verizon why don't they just get out of said business? Unless of course, as Jennifer Yeh suggests, this is just a first salvo in a long term battle to restructure the internet into "New Cable".
not rated yet Sep 15, 2013
"It would be commercially infeasible to offer an Internet service if you couldn't get to the big sites," the lawyer said.

It's not the big sites anyone is worried about. It's the little sites and the smaller competitors to these big name services which would get squeezed out of the networks because the big guys can buy their bandwidth out.

Say you wanted to use Vimeo instead of Youtube - well, too bad, Google's got an exclusive partnership with Verizon now and Vimeo gets throttled out.
1 / 5 (3) Sep 15, 2013
Roads should also be privatized, and a little toolbooth should be installed at every stop light and stop sign. An inspector should do a facial recognition of every driver to profile their risk to the corporation. Those failing the test can buy additional insurance to compensate the corporation for the onerous risk undertaken upon entry to their precious pavement

Any other system is communism
2 / 5 (4) Sep 15, 2013
I don't want my ISP to be able to tell me I can't view sites from their competitors.

I don't want my ISP to be able to tell me what games I can and can't play online, because it might be hosted by their competitor, or a company owned or partnered with their competitor.
1 / 5 (3) Sep 15, 2013
If the big players have their way, they would lose their business to the smaller independent ISP's that offer complete access to the World Wide Web without restriction. What are they thinking?
2 / 5 (4) Sep 15, 2013
If the big players have their way, they would lose their business to the smaller independent ISP's that offer complete access to the World Wide Web without restriction. What are they thinking?

No they won't.

The phone company and the cable company own all the lines anyway. The third party competitor can't out-compete the big guys, because they'll have to pay for the use of the line anyway.
1 / 5 (2) Sep 16, 2013
No they won't.

The phone company and the cable company own all the lines anyway. The third party competitor can't out-compete the big guys, because they'll have to pay for the use of the line anyway.
Yes they will. In the case of cell phone service providers the big players lease capacity to independent cellular providers already, for example, and cannot control the content that they provide or the price that those independents charge.

And don't forget, there is also satellite.
not rated yet Sep 21, 2013
the big players lease capacity

That's the keyword: lease. The little guys have to pay the big guys to operate on the network. How can they compete when the big guys automatically have less cost overhead due to the fact that they own the cables and don't have to pay a cent to anyone?

The leases exist because the government says "play nice", so the big companies simply pretend to compete.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2013
The little guys aim for a lower profit margin. They buy in bulk while the big players have to maintain the infrastructure and cover their huge payrolls.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2013
This while google offers 1000 megabits for $70. Sadly US courts are bought off along with congress and the presidential puppet show funded by Larry Summers who realized he has too many skeletons in his closet to survive any public appointments. The courts will likely side with Verizion to fuck Americans

Larry Summers is almost solely responsible for the worldwide recession as he threatened and manipulated governments worldwide to deregulate banks. US stock market is running on bank money which is nothing more than imaginary numbers copied and pasted from Ben Bernanke's laptop. Fortunately for Americans USA backs up it's kleptocracy by legalizing counterfeiting for zionist bankster money addicts and starting wars all over the middle east to make Saudi Arabia and Israel happy and illustrate they will kill anyone in a relatively tiny country who opposes them