The Norman Transcript

September 15, 2013

Court could block Internet access


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The unfettered Internet that Americans have come to expect may be in danger, if observers of three federal judges are correct.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals this week heard arguments in a case the could have profound effects on the content and speed of access on the Internet.

At issue is “Net neutrality,” the idea that people who create any type of legal content should have an equal ability to reach consumers on the Internet.

Some Internet service providers — including Verizon, which brought the legal challenge — argue they should be able to discriminate against certain websites and charge some sites more money to provide their content at a faster speed.

According to the congressional newspaper The Hill, two of the three federal judges seemed unconvinced that the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to require Internet providers to treat all content equally.

If that forecasts the court’s decision, certain wealthy companies will be able to buy greater access to Internet users. That could prevent the next Google or Facebook from getting off the ground, and it could mean that small businesses or individuals who create a website or video would have less access to users. And it could mean popular sites such as Netflix are blocked or slowed if a wealthier competitor pays a service provider enough money.

It’s not just movies and entertainment choices that would be at risk. As virtually all information moves online, it’s more important than ever that the government ensure that Internet service providers do not play favorites.

The Obama administration has fully supported Net neutrality, and its FCC believes it has authority through the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to require a level online playing field.

If Net neutrality loses out in the courts, Congress needs to ensure that the FCC gas authority to require it. Unfortunately, that may be difficult given the number of congressional Republicans oppose it. Their indefensible opposition hinges on their idea that it’s an unnecessary government involvement in private business.

Yes, Internet service providers are private businesses, but the Internet needs to be protected as a public forum where all voices — no matter how poor or wealthy — have an equal chance of offering content. The free market will decide if that content is valuable.

— Minnesota Free Press