Internet on the outs

You must give Verizon some credit for laying its cards flat on the table for the three judges of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to see ahead of their decision about whether to uphold the company’s appeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order, which we know of as net neutrality.

In court earlier this month, Verizon attorney Helgi Walker confirmed the very thing proponents of net neutrality fear — that Verizon, if it is successful in its bid to overturn the FCC’s regulation — would restrict any website or service, such as Netflix, that it deemed didn’t fit its new “business model,” which could include charging content providers for bandwidth usage or blocking those that compete with Verizon. In short, the new business models it has in mind involves not just setting up new toll booths on the information superhighway but also choosing where you can go once you’re on it.

Net neutrality opponents, blinded by anti-regulatory zeal, have argued that it’s Verizon that is being discriminated against by the FCC. For its part, the FCC instigated the mess it’s in for not recognizing more than a decade ago its own role in regulating the Internet and then years later clumsily seeking to retake the ground it lost without getting Congress’s OK. For its part, Verizon is pulling out all the stops and arguing its case on constitutional grounds, that it being required to treat all content as equal, and even to run content along its pipes, violates both the First and Fifth amendments.

The Internet you enjoy today won’t be the Internet you’re subjected to tomorrow if Verizon prevails in this case, and thanks to its opponent, the FCC, years ago handing the company all the tools it needs to prevail in its argument — like that old hapless Saxon Earl Byrhtnoth at the Battle of Maldon — a decision by the D.C. Circuit Court could result in the internet status quo being remarkably upended, and not for the better.


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