Verizon Case Threatens FCC's Handle on Net Neutrality

Lila Gray

WASHINGTON — A Federal Appeals Court appears poised to rule (at least partially) against the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) current net neutrality regulations in a landmark case initiated by ISP giant Verizon.

At an oral argument today, two of the three of the three participating judges suggested that they believe the FCC lacks the authority to police ISPs and prevent them from discriminating against websites, The Hill reported today.

Net neutrality refers to a concept that supports equal access to online information for all Internet users regardless of one’s service provider (e.g. Verizon, Comcast, etc.). In practice, this means ISPs can’t block or privilege certain sites to, let’s say, promote their own. For example, current regulations would bar AT&T from blocking Skype to advertise an in-house video phone platform.  

Verizon filed its case against the FCC, arguing that it has overstepped its regulatory authority and that net neutrality violates the First Amendment by limiting ISP’s “editorial discretion” of the “speech” it transmits.

The FCC has cited the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Communications Act of 1934 as grounds for its authority to govern the web.

President Obama has long been an ardent supporter of net neutrality and appointed a net neutrality supporter as chairman of the FCC after he entered the White House in 2008.  

In 2007, the same court hearing Verizon’s case ruled in favor of Comcast’s right to slow down certain site’s download times — delivering a blow to the foundation of net neutrality.