A court case which had arguments posed by Verizon this month is challenging the “Open Internet” rule approved in 2010 by the Federal Communications Commission. Should Verizon win, the Internet as we know it could change.
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Currently, the Internet is under the guidance of “net neutrality,” U.S. regulations that keep Internet broadband providers from blocking or discriminating against services or content. In other words, no matter who you purchase your Internet service through, your access to where you want to go on the World Wide Web is unrestricted.
On the surface, that seems ideal. We’re allowed to do what we want, when we want. But it’s more complicated than that. Verizon isn’t just fighting to gain control, it’s fighting to take control away from an agency preventing an American business from making its product smoother, and selling a product as it freely chooses to do so.
Proponents of the FCC’s decision argue if Verizon wins, fixed broadband users like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T may be able to block you from going to sites that rival their services. At the very least they can degrade the experience of sites, like YouTube or Netflix, sites that may be financial competition to alternative services your provider is trying to sell. This could make it a far-less-than-pleasant viewing experience.
But is that what’s really important here? Is the bigger issue that once again government is trying to control free enterprise? Shouldn’t Verizon be allowed to dictate the pace at which its product is sold? It depends on who you ask.
“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, in an interview with The Raw Story.
Verizon and its allies, though, argue the FCC lacks authority to interfere with their business, and that Congress never decided the Internet is a regulated utility or “common carrier.” “It’s not up to the FCC to decide these issues on its own,” said Verizon lawyer Helgi Walker in The Raw Story article, arguing the case before the U.S. 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 authority Verizon refers to is the FCC’s 2010 3-2 majority decision in which it imposed the rules to ensure that the Internet “has no gatekeepers limiting innovation and communication through the network.”
So the debate continues in the Court of Appeals, and probably long after the decision is made there. Lobby groups on both sides are heavily invested in how it plays out. Lots of money is at stake, and even more so, control over the Internet, which was once something branded uncontrollable, is up for grabs.
A Verizon win could really shake up the game. While it should be a company’s decision on how to provide its product, there is still the issue that a lot of areas have very limited Internet Service Provider options. Many Americans won’t be able to simply switch to another company if they don’t like what Verizon does, and if they do, it will be from a handful of companies sharing the same mindset.
Then again, isn’t that the American way?
It’s an important case for many reasons, but mainly for sake of business practices in America. Who deserves the control, a company providing services we willingly choose to purchase, or the government?