FCC’s Net Neutrality Rule Tossed Out

Your right to access the websites you choose was thrown out by a federal court today.  The DC Circuit of the US Court of Appeals reversed the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order, which protected “Net Neutrality,” a citizen’s right to access any legal website on the Internet without interference from their Internet Service Provider (ISP).  Now, the ISP that provides wired broadband service to a citizen, say a Verizon, Comcast, or other (usually) phone or cable company, does not have to remain “neutral” and simply do what you ask; rather, the ISP now has the unfettered right to divert a consumer looking for a particular website — say an independent bookstore — to a competing bookstore or other website that pays a fee or toll to that ISP.  Even more chilling, the ISP has the right, according to the court, to degrade or even completely block a consumer’s access to a website for any reason such as, say, the ISP doesn’t agree with that website’s politics.  This decision puts at risk the Internet as we know it, threatening to turn it into something akin to cable television, where smaller, less well-funded independent voices, innovators, businesses, and creative artists are relegated to a second-tier Net, while well-established and -funded businesses pay ISPs to drive traffic to them.

The only piece of good news in this ruling is that the court recognized that the FCC does have the statutory authority to reissue its Open Internet Order, but under a different legal rationale.  Whether the FCC under new Chairman Tom Wheeler has the desire and political muscle to issue such a new order is debatable.  But after the court decision, Wheeler did issue a lengthy and thoughtful statement that is his strongest commitment yet in support of an preserving an open Internet.  The ball is now squarely in his court to make good on this commitment.

Creative Voices Exec. Director Jonathan Rintels discussed the court’s Net Neutrality decision on Inside Cville with Coy Barefoot, audio here.