A US Appeals Court has ruled that the Federal Communications Commission lacks the authority to prevent ISPs from blocking or slowing specific websites.
(RSF/IFEX) – Reporters Without Borders calls for vigilance and asks Congress to act in favor of Net neutrality after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled on April 6th, 2010 that the Federal Communications Commission lacked the authority under the existing legal framework to prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing specific websites.
“This is a critical time and a major setback,” the organization said. “This ruling is contradictory to the government’s commitment to Net neutrality and equal access to the Internet for all American citizens. It allows Internet service providers to control Internet traffic, rerouting people to the sites and search engines they own. This is not only a commercial decision, it does have enormous consequences for the free flow of information. The neutrality principle has made the Internet an open, creative and free space. It is already being put under threat by the world’s authoritarian states, led by China and Iran. It would be disastrous if the United States were to give it up as well.”
In 2007, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, was caught interfering with consumers’ ability to download files from file-sharing services like BitTorrent. An investigation by the FCC was opened on January 2008. In August 2008, the FCC said Comcast violated its Internet principles and ordered the company to change its policies but didn’t fine Comcast. A month later, Comcast appealed, arguing the FCC’s net-neutrality principles can’t be enforced. In a unanimous decision on April 6th, 2010, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the FCC exceeded its authority when it sanctioned Comcast in 2008 for deliberately preventing some subscribers from using peer-to-peer file-sharing services to download large files.
“We call upon Congress to back the FCC up action regarding this decision. New legislation is needed to give the FCC the resources to prevent Internet providers from abusing Net neutrality. We also call upon the FCC to reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications service” so that it can keep the Internet open and free,” added Reporters Without Borders.
Under the Bush FCC, in 2002, the agency decided to classify and treat broadband Internet service providers the same as any Internet applications company like Facebook, placing broadband providers outside of the legal framework that traditionally applied to the companies that offer two-way communications services and deciding to no longer regulate broadband Internet service under the same regime they used for telephone service.
Many countries already violate the principle of Internet neutrality by blocking access to online publications which displease them. RSF believes that the Net should serve to transmit information, without reference to its origin or destination; only users should be able to decide which content they want to access. Abandoning the neutrality principle in the United States would increase the risk of spreading the Chinese model – a more centralised network in which access providers would have improper and decisive power over content transmission.