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Tuesday January 14, 2014 21:32 by newsmedia
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Judges at a federal appeal court in Washington have dealt what could well be a mortal blow to the freedom of the Internet.
Three judges sitting at the court rejected the Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet Order appeal on the grounds that its Net Neutrality was founded on 'questionable legal framework' when the agency adopted its Net Neutrality rules in 2010.
Net neutrality was part of President Barack Obama's campaign platform in 2008. The FCC and its backers said allowing Internet providers to charge content companies more for faster service could threaten future innovation by making it harder for startups and others without deep pockets to reach consumers effectively
The ruling means that ight now there is no one protecting Internet users from ISPs that block or discriminate against websites, applications or services. Major Internet service supply companies such as Verizon. At&T and Comcast will now be able to block or slow down any website, application or service they like and be able to create tiered pricing structures with fast lanes for those who can afford the tolls and slow lanes for everyone else.
The court also threw out an FCC rule that barred providers from blocking Internet traffic outright.
Verizon wants the ability to charge content companies for faster connections with their end users. The ruling could cause headaches for companies like Netflix Inc., which doesn't want to pay broadband providers extra to deliver its popular movie-streaming service to consumers.
Two of the three judges suggested the FCC might have some room to revive its rules with certain modifications. One possibility would be to classify broadband Internet as a telecommunications service, the designation that has long applied to regular telephone service.
The decision by the court brought immediate responses by action groups freepress.net and RootsAction.Org which have both launched petitions to defende Internet freedoms.
The FCC's "open Internet" rules, often referred to as net-neutrality rules, were passed in 2010 and designed to ensure Internet service providers treated similar content on their broadband pipes equally. Verizon Communications Inc. sued to block the rules, saying the FCC lacked the authority to impose them.
A statement released by Media watchdog and advocacy agency Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said: "We’re disappointed that the court came to this conclusion. Its ruling means that Internet users will be pitted against the biggest phone and cable companies — and in the absence of any oversight, these companies can now block and discriminate against their customers’ communications at will.
"The compromised Open Internet Order struck down today left much to be desired, but it was a step toward maintaining Internet users’ freedom to go where they wanted, when they wanted, and communicate freely online. Now, just as Verizon promised it would in court, the biggest broadband providers will race to turn the open and vibrant Web into something that looks like cable TV. They’ll establish fast lanes for the few giant companies that can afford to pay exorbitant tolls and reserve the slow lanes for everyone else.
"The FCC — under the leadership of former Chairman Julius Genachowski — made a grave mistake when it failed to ground its open Internet rules on solid legal footing. Internet users will pay dearly for the previous chairman’s lack of political will. That’s why we need to fix the problems the agency could have avoided in the first place.
"New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently stated that the FCC must have the ability to protect broadband users and preserve the Internet’s fundamental open architecture. In order to do that, he must act quickly to restore reassert the FCC’s clear authority over our nation’s communications infrastructure. The agency must follow its statutory mandate to make broadband communications networks open, accessible, reliable and affordable for everyone.
"We look forward to working with Chairman Wheeler and the rest of the Commission to protect and preserve real Net Neutrality."
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has voiced opposition to regulating broadband Internet providers like phone companies once were, and many Republicans and others in Washington criticize the idea as an example of excessive federal regulation.
Mr. Wheeler, a supporter of net neutrality, recently argued he has the power to police Internet service providers on an individual basis if their behavior is anticompetitive or prevents consumers from accessing the Web.
Reacting to the ruling, Mr. Wheeler said the FCC would consider appealing to the Supreme Court. "I am committed to maintaining our networks as engines for economic growth, test beds for innovative services and products, and channels for all forms of speech," he said.