The End of Equal Internet Access?

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has invalidated key provisions of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) net neutrality rules.

In a 3-0 decision, the Court ruled that the FCC overstepped its regulatory authority in issuing a 2010 order that barred broadband carriers from blocking or slowing certain websites. 

According to Wired Magazine, the ruling could lead "to a curated approach to internet delivery that allows broadband providers to block content or applications as they see fit."

Scott Cleland, Chairman of Net Competition, an e-forum that represents broadband interests including AT&T and Verizon, applauds the Court for overruling the FCC. Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, disagrees. 

Cleland agrees with the court because he feels that internet companies need the ability to quickly adapt, change and innovate on a daily basis. 

"What common carrier regulation requires is a 'Mother May I?' system where if you want to build fiber, if you want to invent a new service or if you want to do something new and different and innovative you have to ask a regulator," he says. "A regulator may take months or years to get back to you."

Cleland says that these kinds of restrictions were placed on telephone companies, which is why the telephone itself didn't change for about 50 years. 

"Under common carrier where you have to ask the government for permission to innovate, things just don't happen," he adds, saying that is why the FCC has moved away from common carrier regulations for the last 40 years towards the unregulated information services space.

Crawford, however, feels that perspective is "absolutely wrong."

"High-speed internet access was a common carriage service until about 10 years ago," she says. "It turns out over the last 10 years we've seen enormous consolidation in the internet access market, to the point where, for high capacity connections, most Americans have one choice—their local cable monopoly. Yesterday's ruling said to the FCC that they can't deregulate with one hand as they did 10 years ago and then try to impose net neutrality rules with the other hand."

Cleland says that when looking back over the past 10 years, the U.S. developed the most competitive broadband systems on the globe. 

"Nothing bad happened over the last 10 years, and amazing innovative advances have happened," he says. "The premise here that somehow there is an economic incentive to not be open—it just doesn't make sense."

Who do you agree with? Listen to the full interview and weigh in below.