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Federal Court Sides With Telecom, Deals Blow to Open Internet

'Game-changing' ruling may mean 'rules protecting Internet users from corporate abuse will disappear.'

Andrea Germanos

In a decision that may "serve as a sorry memorial to the corporate abrogation of free speech," a U.S. appeals court on Tuesday struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s rules on "net neutrality."

Net neutrality means that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must treat all content the same. Internet freedom group Free Press explains that with net neutrality, ISPs "may not discriminate between different kinds of online content and apps. It guarantees a level playing field for all websites and Internet technologies."

Reuters reports that during oral argument in the lawsuit brought by Verizon Communications Inc,

Verizon's lawyer said the regulations violated the company's right to free speech and stripped control of what its networks transmit and how.

Ahead of the ruling Josh Levy of Free Press warned that "If Verizon gets its way, the FCC’s rules protecting Internet users from corporate abuse will disappear."

Tuesday's ruling siding with Verizon "is a game-changer," business and technology site Gigaom reports,

because it upsets the FCC’s current practice of requiring broadband internet providers to act akin to “common carriers.” In plain English, this means that they have had to behave in a similar way to phone companies and not give special preference to one type of call (or traffic) over another, even though the FCC’s authority to regulate the broadband providers was not clear cut.

Net neutrality advocates are calling Tuesday's ruling "disappointing," and are warning that big telecommunications companies will be able to turn what was a move towards an open Internet into "something that looks like cable TV."

The ruling "is poised to end the free, open, and uncensored Internet that we have come to rely on," former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, special adviser to advocacy group Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Initiative, said in a statement.

Craig Aaron, President and CEO of Free Press, issued a statement saying that “ruling means that Internet users will be pitted against the biggest phone and cable companies—and in the absence of any oversight, these companies can now block and discriminate against their customers’ communications at will."

“The compromised Open Internet Order struck down today left much to be desired, but it was a step toward maintaining Internet users’ freedom to go where they wanted, when they wanted, and communicate freely online. Now, just as Verizon promised it would in court, the biggest broadband providers will race to turn the open and vibrant Web into something that looks like cable TV. They’ll establish fast lanes for the few giant companies that can afford to pay exorbitant tolls and reserve the slow lanes for everyone else," Aaron added.

"Without prompt corrective action by the Commission to reclassify broadband, this awful ruling will serve as a sorry memorial to the corporate abrogation of free speech," Copps added.

The FCC may appeal the ruling.

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