Court: FCC has no jurisdiction over the Internet

This court decision by the United States Federal Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit was not entirely unexpected, but it does not bode well for net neutrality. The case is Comcast v. FCC. Comcast put out a press release praising the decision and stated their commitment to “open Internet”. A party to the case, freepress, put out their own release. One notable quote from freepress is the following:

[Because of the decision, t]he FCC has virtually no power to make policies to bring broadband to rural America, to promote competition, to protect consumer privacy or truth in billing.

Net neutrality is the idea that all network traffic should be treated equally, without regard to content or source. What got Comcast in trouble with the FCC was interfering with peer-to-peer traffic such as BitTorrent.

Internet and legal blogs and press were all abuzz with talk of the decision. Bloggers that reacted included the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Wall Street Journal (including WSJ blogs like Digits), Larry Downes (with the Stanford Center for Stanford Center Internet and Society), the New York Times, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Above the Law, the ACLU, and so many endless others.

If the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) cannot sanction a company (Comcast, in this case) for the way it throttled Internet access for its customers, then access to selected sites can be denied or slowed down upon an arbitrary decision by the company. Sites like Google could be charged different prices by their ISPs than other sites, web sites could be blocked, users charged different prices depending on their usage – how much and what kind – and more.

Imagine if your phone company could charge you more for making calls to businesses – or certain businesses. Imagine if the phone company decided that you couldn’t call certain companies. Imagine that your phone company decided you couldn’t order a pizza.

The way this decision stands, it sounds like the FCC no longer has any right to regulate the Internet at all – which leaves us at the mercy of the big ISPs. I hope this gets corrected by the US Supreme Court or the US Congress and soon.

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