Net Neutrality: The Ramifications of Verizon v. FCC

In Verizon v. FCC, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down certain Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations that mandate net neutrality which allows for free and open access to the Internet. Many have denounced this ruling as the death of the open Internet, which could lead to the corporate corruption in attempt to restrict access by charging additional fees. The Court ruled that the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order was not “within the scope of (the FCC’s) statutory grant of authority” as given by Congress.

The FCC relies on the outdated 1996 Telecommunications Act, an act that was legislated when smartphones were nonexistent and dial-up was the sole form of accessing the web, for the authority to regulate internet service providers. Because no major Congressional legislation has since addressed the changing face of the Internet, the lack of technologically up-to-date laws has stymied the FCC’s attempts to further regulate the industry.

Comcast’s proposed union with Time Warner Cable, which would create the largest internet service provider in existence, has been a recent example of the FCC’s lack of ability to regulate the industry. Besides raising antitrust concerns as the entity would service one-third of Americans, the merger has tremendous ramifications for net neutrality given the size and scope of the proposed fusion. The FCC has not yet been able to issue a new order regarding the proposition that complies with the Court’s ruling. The inability for the FCC to take the necessary regulatory actions could be detrimental to upholding net neutrality.

The continuation for net neutrality is fundamental. With services such as Netflix using large amounts of data, the desire to treat all communications equally seems unreasonable given the potential costs to comply with such the Court’s decision. However, setting a precedent to differentiate between various content sources could lead to discrimination against many providers and subjugation of ideas. For example, a telecommunications company could decide Facebook videos consume too much bandwidth and thereby charge an additional fee to post these videos. This hypothetical scenario raises free speech concerns as new systems could create barriers to free expression and free enterprise. Small startups would face tremendous financial barriers to market entry if they were required to pay large telecommunications companies. Net neutrality levels the playing field, enabling economic opportunity and global interaction.

With the goal of net neutrality, the FCC promised to rewrite its bylaws to comply with the Court’s ruling. Due to the urgency and importance of the issue, the FCC plans to act within coming months to refine the Open Internet Order. Chairman Tom Wheeler stated that “preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of (the FCC).” Wheeler’s comment suggests that the FCC will act forcefully to promote an Internet that favors the creativity and interactivity of its billions of users. Should the FCC renege on its policy to “ensure that no one, not the government and not the companies that provide broadband service, can restrict innovation on the Internet,” America could suffer due to a shift toward other countries with freer, more innovative policies. The FCC therefore has an obligation to ensure the freedom of the Internet as a means of promoting American capitalism.

The United States should lead the world in promoting innovation. The American economy remains the bedrock of the global economy and American companies offer the innovative services necessary to adapt to the modern age. Nothing in the Court’s ruling precludes the FCC from championing policies that preserve America’s status as a global technological leader. However, the FCC must act within its Congressional mandate or it should press for more authority. With legislative action unlikely in the currently-polarized Congress, refining a broad rule to conform to Verizon v. FCC seems the best option for preserving the status quo in the Internet and providing for the technological innovation that could transform society.