Net neutrality regulations draw fire from appeals court

Skeptical tone could set precedent for future cases

Despite a seemingly benign goal of keeping the Internet equitable for all websites, during a hearing on Sept. 9, a federal appeals court expressed concern that FCC regulations aimed at keeping service provider hands off network traffic went too far.

During the hearing, in which the court accepted oral arguments from Internet service provider (ISP) and net neutrality opponent Verizon, a panel of three judges questioned the validity of the FCC justification for net neutrality laws, The Wall Street Journal reported. Specific concerns were focused on the antidiscrimination provisions that prevent service providers from charging large content producers more despite their higher volumes of traffic.

Verizon says that the net neutrality regulations were a violation of its first amendment rights, arguing that the content its service provides is an editorial choice. Verizon also asserted that the restrictive controls stifle innovation and prevent them from offering new and more attractive services to their customers.

The court directed pointed questions at the FCC and remained skeptical about the scope of power the agency should maintain. One of the Judges, David Tatel, has a history with the FCC, presiding over a ruling in 2010 that required the FCC to rewrite rules on net neutrality as a result of Comcast vs. FCC. The current debate is less about whether or not a free and open internet is essential and more about the scope of power federal agencies like the FCC should have.

The current regulations were imposed by the FCC in December of 2011 and deny service providers total control over their network, restricting them from throttling or degrading the flow of data to and from specific websites. The FCC and advocates argue that equitable access like this is crucial to a free and open Internet.

While no ruling has been made yet, the Sept. 9 hearing is likely to result in a stream of similar arguments from service providers. Successful repeal of net neutrality laws could result in a radically different Internet, with high volume content providers potential paying for their higher accessibility. 

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