Net Neutrality in the Modern Age
By: Kiersten Call
The principle of net neutrality embraces the concept that everyone should have access to a free and open internet. Specifically, net neutrality emphasizes that individuals should be able to access all internet content equally and without the threat of Internet service providers discriminating against certain websites or services. This issue is crucial because without net neutrality, there is potential for broadband providers, such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, to prioritize certain Internet traffic. This would impose more fees and poor service for certain online content such as Netflix. The potential issues include higher costs being pushed out to the average internet consumer and less business innovation due to fees making it more expensive to launch new services. The Federal Communications Commission has been a major advocate of upholding net neutrality principles and avoiding these potential issues. However, they have been met with much opposition from broadband providers.
The issue of net neutrality is not a new one to be argued in front of a court. In fact, on June 14, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the FCC’s Open Internet Rules. However, this was the first real victory for net neutrality among a history of two previous failures. The Federal Communications Commission first attempted to compel broadband providers to adhere to certain open internet practices in Comcast Corp. v. FCC. However, the court decided that there was no authority that authorized these attempted regulations. After this failure, the Federal Communications Commission introduced net neutrality protections in May 2010, which stated that internet service providers could not impose limits on users or block websites. These protections, which were finalized in December 2010, were the first-ever rules adopted to regulate Internet access and promote net neutrality. Weeks after the adoption of these regulations, Verizon Communications filed a federal lawsuit which would ultimately overturn the 2010 regulations. In Verizon v. FCC, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided that while section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 did allow for the Commission to enact rules for net neutrality, the classification of broadband services as an information service did not allow for regulations in this instance. In response, the Federal Communications Commission adopted the FCC’s Open Internet rules on February 26, 2015.
These Open Internet rules had three main components. First, they reclassified broadband services as a telecommunications service, subject to carrier regulations under Title II of the Communications Act. Secondly, these rules forbid any regulations that were not necessary to protect consumers. Finally, bright line rules were established banning blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. In a 2-to-1 decision from a three-judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, these rules were upheld. While a potential appeal may still be granted, as of now, this decision limits the ability of broadband providers to become gatekeepers of internet users and ensures access to an open internet.
United States Telecom Ass’n v. Fed. Commc’ns Comm’n, 825 F.3d 674, 696 (D.C. Cir. 2016)