Equal Access to the Internet is in Jeopardy; The Net Neutrality Fight Will Continue in Court


On Thursday morning, the Federal Communications Commission voted to end net neutrality, thus equal access to the internet. Net neutrality prohibits internet service providers from blocking and slowing down content that you want to see. Without net neutrality, large providers can interfere with what we see when we search for content on the web.

For communities of color, an open internet meant organizing and telling our stories without experiencing blocked websites. Although Facebook and other social media platforms exist, the dismantling of net neutrality is a loss of the means to access these popular platforms.

What upcoming lawsuits will look like

Organizations like Free Press, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and Media Alliance have already announced plans to sue.  Likely more advocates will join in the suit as “intervenors” and even more organizations file amicus curiae letters. Even before hearing substantive arguments on the merits, expect some serious fighting over procedures. Of course, the plaintiffs will likely be small and mid-size companies with an online presence because they will feel the heaviest blow from the end of net neutrality. You won’t see a Google lawsuit but you may see Netflix.

 Pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, the FCC’s decision can be set aside if it’s “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”  This will not be an easy win for net neutrality advocates because courts give deference to agency’s rulings. Still, the FCC argument that neutrality regulations hurt investment in broadband infrastructure is flawed. Exposing this could point to the FCC’s ruling being more political than for the common good of the people. However, the burden of proof is on the plaintiffs to prove this.

The FCC will continue to argue that the government should classify the internet as an information service as opposed to a communications service, thereby subjecting internet providers to less stringent regulatory requirements. Obama-era rules classified the internet as a communications service subject to certain consumer-protection requirements.

How does this affect consumers?

When the net neutrality repeal goes into effect we may notice some websites taking longer to load than others. You may be able to watch some videos and access some websites for free and others for a fee. Think about how we pay to access certain channels on cable television.  The internet could operate in a similar way.  This means paying extra costs without added benefits, stifled competition which may hurt small businesses, less consumer choice, and censorship. This is what the internet will look like without net neutrality.


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