Enforced net neutrality crucial to Internet freedom

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned important components of the FCC’s net neutrality regulations. Net neutrality is the principle that all data and content on the Internet should be treated equally and be available to any person with access to an Internet connection.

By striking down the FCC’s protections for an open and equal Internet, the courts are allowing companies to make decisions about content availability that may negatively impact all of us.

If this court ruling stands, it would legally allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the websites you can visit and the speed at which they can send their data. For instance, it would be possible for a single ISP to partner with a popular site such as Netflix, and have Netflix offer streaming exclusively for its Internet customers or at a faster speed.

It is also possible that if the owner of an ISP had an objection to certain types of online material, those sites would then be blocked for their customers. This could have dangerous implications not only on free speech, but also on the availability of information on sensitive or controversial topics.

ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon argue that since they pay for and manage the infrastructure through which consumers access the Internet, they have the right to make decisions about the content carried over these connections.

Some also say that if consumers do not like the content decisions being made by their ISP, they have the ability to switch providers. However, this opens up possibilities for collusion, as well as content restriction in rural areas. Due to the costs of creating the infrastructure for Internet connections, many rural areas may only have one ISP. If that ISP makes the decision to restrict certain content or block an online service, the people living in that area would have no ability to access those websites. It would also be very difficult for anyone to opt out of an ISP altogether.

Additionally, if major ISPs colluded to block a web service they found threatening or unappealing, many people would also be deprived of fair data access.

Data must be treated as free and equal on the web. Net neutrality is the best way to protect free speech and open content online, and this court ruling poses a significant threat to these rights.