2014-01-15 08:36:11 UTC
10:11pm Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Internet service providers are no longer required to treat all kinds of
Web activity equally, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in a
decision that could dramatically reshape online access.
The decision overturns key parts of the Federal Communications
Commission's net neutrality regulations, which barred Internet providers
from restricting speeds or even blocking visits to different
sites. Analysts say the ruling could allow Internet providers to slow
down sites like bandwidth-heavy Netflix or Google and force them - or
their visitors - to pay for faster access.
Verizon, which brought the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia Circuit, argued that because it built its network,
it has the right to manage its costs and services as it pleases.
Judges said although the FCC has oversight of how Internet providers
manage traffic, its regulations were overreaching considering the agency
classified broadband providers as "information services" companies
rather than telecom companies, which "exempts them from treatment as
The tech world blasted the ruling, saying it could turn the free-for-all
that is the Internet into an industry more akin to cable television.
"The D.C. Circuit's decision is alarming for all Internet users," said
Harvey Anderson, senior vice president of legal affairs for browser
company Mozilla. "Thanks to a legal technicality, essential protections
for user choice and online innovation are gone."
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said his agency is mulling a Supreme Court
appeal, and insisted the FCC will not "abandon its responsibility to
oversee that broadband networks operate in the public interest."
"(The FCC) will not disregard the possibility that exercises of economic
power or of ideological preference by dominant network firms will
diminish the value of the Internet to some or all segments of our
society," he wrote in a blog post.
The ruling is a major defeat for the Silicon Valley lobby, which sought
to convince Washington that Web access should remain unconstrained by
But the changes could affect far more than the tech world. Verizon,
Comcast and a handful of other broadband providers control the vast
majority of Internet access nationwide, and that lack of competition has
sparked concern across a variety of industries. Control concerns
"Now that the Internet has become the primary mechanism for delivering
information, services and applications to the general public, it is
especially important that commercial Internet service providers are not
able to control or manipulate the content of these communications," said
Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association.
Rashad Robinson, executive director of the African American advocacy
group ColorOf Change.org, fears that large private companies may start
to squeeze out public discourse online.
"Our communities rely on the Internet to speak without a corporate
filter, to access information and connect to the world, and to be able
to organize and hold public officials and corporations accountable."
Verizon insists the ruling won't result in any changes to Internet
"Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet which
provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to
lawful websites and content when, where and how they want," a spokesman
said in a statement. "This will not change in light of the court's