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Net Neutrality Overturned

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 13:46
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Internet-service providers will no longer be 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 providers to slow down sites like bandwidth-heavy Netflix or Google and force them — or their visitors — to pay for faster access.

Verizon, a leading provider of landline and wireless-phone service as well as Internet access, had accused the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of overreaching in its 2010 “Open Internet” order, which barred broadband providers from discriminating against or blocking any data distributed over their networks — a goal of those advocating a concept also known as Net neutrality.

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 that although the FCC has oversight of how Internet providers manage traffic, its regulations were overreaching, largely because of the agency’s decision eight years earlier that classified broadband as an “information service” rather than as a “common-carrier” telecommunications service.

The tech world blasted Tuesday’s 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.”


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