The internet has really taken off in the last five years with the rapid emergence of mobile technology through smart phones, tablets and other devices that allow us the ability to connect to the web anywhere at any time. And in this “internet age” the term net neutrality has been a highly contested and often time controversial issue with diverging view points across the telecom sector. While many have heard pundits and legislators utter the phrase net neutrality, unless you are versed or savvy in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) jargon or read up on the latest telecommunication cases, there is a fairly good chance that you are unaware of what this hot button issue really means and the very serious implications it poses for internet users everywhere.
The American Civil Liberties Union defines net neutrality as “preserving the freedom and openness of the internet.” Simply put, it is a principle that allows users to go online and access any legal content that they want without being blocked by third parties.
The conversation taking place around net neutrality is not a new one; rather it is a discussion that has been resonating within the telecom space for many years. However, the resurfacing of the debate around how we approach the preservation of the internet is largely due to the recent DC Circuit Court decision that was rendered in January 2014. In this matter, the Court ruled in favor of Verizon who challenged the Open Internet rule claiming that the FCC overstepped its legal authority. By virtue of this decision, the DC Circuit Court empowered the FCC to use some level of authority to set parameters over the internet and look into enforcement measures. In light of the recent DC Circuit decision, the question remains–how do we preserve the openness of the internet and ensure that access to web content is not interrupted but instead continues to flow freely without any blockage from third parties?
There are two competing legal alternatives on how this can be accomplished. The more progressive and inclusive approach suggest that the FCC has the regulatory authority under the Commission’s Section 706 authority to implement rules necessary to ensure that Internet continues to flourish; while others contend that Section 706 does not go far enough and that Title II regulations are necessary.
In order to continue to move this framework of growth, openness and innovation forward, it is important that the FCC turn to the regulatory authority afforded under Section 706 as it remains the best option for it to implement substantive open internet rules that are enforceable, consumer friendly and take into consideration key aspects of consumer protection. Section 706 would also offer the stability necessary to support an open internet regime as it would properly promote and maintain a degree of regulatory certainty while helping to encourage a large degree of private sector investment which is critical for deploying advanced broadband infrastructure throughout the nation.
Section 706 provides the most progressive approach to keep this ecosystem going, and, therefore, the FCC should abide by the regulatory authority provided therein to continue to propel this path of tremendous success. While some are urging the FCC to institute a heavy-handed regulatory model under Title II, which in essence is tantamount to imposing antiquated and out of date laws written in the 1930’s to regulate the most innovative and important technology of today, it is imperative that we allow the FCC to act responsibly in order to foster the continued growth of the internet and prevent anti-competitive activity. It’s critical that we not abandon the virtuous cycle that keeps the internet open while still imposing a framework that protects consumers and encourages the ebbs and flows of information.