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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Court Questions FCC Authority to Impose Net Neutrality

The case before the U.S. Court of Appeals is an appeal from Comcast related to sanctions imposed on it by the FCC for discriminating against peer-to-peer networking file traffic in an effort to throttle bandwidth demand on its broadband network. Comcast's challenge claims the FCC has no such authority.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has stated that the FCC acted based on the Four Freedoms outlined by the previous FCC administration in 2005. These principles, while not formal rules, have been used to govern net neutrality on a case-by-case basis:

1. Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.

2. Consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.

3. Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.

4. Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

Based on how the case is proceeding now, it seems obvious that the appeals court will decide in favor of Comcast, leading to misguided speculation that the case will validate opposition to the FCC authority over Internet providers and put a nail in the coffin of its efforts at establishing formal net neutrality rules.

Losing this court case will provide the FCC with tangible proof for why the pursuit of net neutrality is so urgent, and give Congress incentive to more clearly specify the scope of the FCC's authority to oversee and police wired and wireless broadband providers.

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