Today's ruling for Comcast by the DC Circuit Court could be the biggest blow to our nation's primary communications platform, or it could be the kick in the pants our leaders need to finally protect it. Either way, the future of the Internet, the fight for Net Neutrality, and the expansion of broadband is hanging in the balance.
The court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission lacks the authority under existing legal framework to enforce rules that keep Internet service providers from blocking and controlling Internet traffic. The decision puts the FCC's Net Neutrality proceeding and the National Broadband Plan in jeopardy.
The court ruled in favor of ISP Comcast, which was caught blocking BitTorrent Internet traffic in 2007 and contested the FCC's attempts to stop the company. The decision has made it near impossible for the FCC to follow through with plans to create strong Net Neutrality protections that keep the Internet out of the hands of corporations. Additionally, without authority over broadband, the decision means the FCC will be hamstrung when it comes to implementing portions of its just released broadband plan.
As a result of this decision, the FCC can't stop Comcast and others from blocking Web sites. And the FCC can't make policies to bring broadband to rural America, to promote competition, and to protect consumer privacy or truth in billing.
The FCC has found itself in the ridiculous situation of attempting to regulate broadband without the authority to do so unless the agency takes strong and decisive action to "reclassify" the service under the Communications Act.
Here's the deal: under the Bush FCC, the agency decided to classify and treat broadband Internet service providers the same as any Internet applications company like Facebook or Lexis-Nexis, placing broadband providers outside of the legal framework that traditionally applied to the companies that offer two-way communications services.
That's the loophole that let Comcast wiggle out from under the agency's thumb.
Change it back
There's an easy fix here: The FCC can change broadband back to a "communications service," which is where it should have been in the first place. By reclassifying broadband, all of these questions about authority will fall away and the FCC can pick up where it left off - protecting the Internet for the public and bridging the digital divide.
While Comcast and other ISPs may be celebrating today, this court decision will hopefully force the FCC to take action that will ultimately come back to haunt them. Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott told the Associated Press, "Comcast swung an ax at the FCC to protest the BitTorrent order. And they sliced right through the FCC's arm and plunged the ax into their own back."
Millions of you
Reclassification of broadband may be a simple fix, but it will take guts from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to actually implement it, particularly as ISPs unleash intense pressure to maintain the status quo.
That's where you come in: We need thousands of you, if not millions, to tell the FCC to protect Net Neutrality and the National Broadband Plan by reasserting their regulatory authority.
In less than 72 hours, the public comment period on the FCC's Net Neutrality proceeding will end. Use this window of opportunity to give the FCC one giant public mandate: We want an Internet free from corporate control.
Will Internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T persuade the FCC to allow them to control Internet traffic, rerouting people to the sites and search engines they own? Or will the FCC protect our last remaining open platform for communication, where anyone can create a Web site, post a video, start a business, or find the information they need without ISPs meddling with our traffic?
This could be one of the most important actions you take all year. The hours are ticking down. Take a few minutes to take action on something that will impact generations.