Net neutrality debate heats up as Verizon threatens legal action | Major Businesses | Business | News | Rapid TV News
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About 70 organisations have filed opposition to the so-called sender side approach to Net neutrality rules in the US, put forth by the Federal Communications Commission as a possible proposal.

And Verizon, as a top US ISP, has filed a lawsuit in relation to the FCC’s tandem Net neutrality consideration to reclassify broadband as a public utility.

Throttling websites specifically is a banned practice as far as the FCC is concerned, but FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has left the door open for companies to strike commercial deals with ISPs to have their traffic prioritised over others when it comes to bandwidth allocation and faster delivery.

Critics have been concerned that allowing this behaviour would essentially translate into smaller web companies being squeezed out of the market, because only the larger ones would have the ability to pay the toll, as it were. And that in turn, they say, would result in a stifling of innovation, a reduction in the marketplace of ideas and the killing of the long-tail economy that has sustained the Internet to date.

“Individuals, companies, policymakers at all levels and public interest organizations working on everything from environmental protection to reproductive rights have called on you to establish every Internet user’s right to connect with any person or website of their choosing without discrimination, censorship or any other interference with their communications by their Internet service provider (ISP),” the group said in a letter to the FCC.

Large open-access advocates like Google and Netflix and a range of tech investors have also filed official protests to the proposal, prompting the Commission to revise its approach to ban paid prioritisation arrangements outright.

Meanwhile, Wheeler is also seeking comments on reclassifying broadband as a public utility.

Earlier in the year Verizon won its challenge of the Open Internet Order in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Verizon argued that the FCC lacks the authority to enforce Net neutrality because, it claimed, Congress did not grant the agency the ability to do so, because broadband is not classified as a public utility, the way telecom is.

“The FCC has acted without statutory authority to insert itself into this crucial segment of the American economy, while failing to show any factual need to do so,” Verizon said in its brief to the court.

The court agreed. But if the FCC does in fact re-classify broadband, it would put Net neutrality once more under its purview.

“The FCC's surest, clearest path forward for strong network neutrality protections remains, as it has been, to reclassify the last-mile retail broadband Internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act,” said Sarah Morris, senior policy counsel for the Open Technology Institute at New America.

On the opposite side of the matter, Verizon has for months aimed the threat of litigation at the FCC if it doesn’t satisfy its requirements by opting out of reclassification. Randal Milch, Verizon’s general counsel has now warned by way of the company blog that any change to the status quo is unacceptable.  “Whatever the FCC decides about new Net Neutrality rules, the whole thing is headed for another round in court,” he wrote.

Wheeler himself has been somewhat ambiguous in his stance on Net neutrality. "I am a firm believer in the market," he said during a speech last December. “I think we’re also going to see a two-sided market where Netflix might say, ‘well, I’ll pay in order to make sure that you might receive, my subscriber receives, the best possible transmission of this movie.’ I think we want to let those kinds of things evolve. We want to observe what happens from that, and we want to make decisions accordingly, but I go back to the fact that the marketplace is where these decisions ought to be made, and the functionality of a competitive marketplace dictates the degree of regulation."

"On the Internet, people have never had to worry about which broadband providers were delivering their messages on the other end of the line,” said Alan Davidson, director of the Open Technology Institute, and vice president of New America. “The reported FCC proposal would upend that basic model of Internet communications, which has been so important to innovation and free expression. The proposal would create a new and surprising legal relationship between ISPs and millions of speakers around the world, opening the door for greater gatekeeper control of activity online."