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FCC To ISPs: No First Amendment Right To Edit Your Content

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Dec. 4.
FCC To ISPs: No First Amendment Right To Edit Your Content
Image from: newamericamedia.org

I'm actually surprised that more people aren't paying attention to this court case. If the ISPs eventually win (after appealing to the Supremes, no doubt), it will have serious effects on how we use the internet:

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday said it did not violate the First Amendment rights of Internet service providers when it voted to implement net neutrality rules.

Broadband providers who sued to overturn the rules claim their constitutional rights are being violated, but the FCC disputed that and other arguments in a filing in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

ISPs are conduits for the speech of others; they are not delivering their own messages when they connect their customers to the Internet, the FCC argued. Rules against blocking and throttling Internet content thus do not violate the ISPs’ constitutional rights, the FCC said.

“Nobody understands broadband providers to be sending a message or endorsing speech when transmitting the Internet content that a user has requested,” the FCC wrote. “When a user directs her browser to the New York Times or Wall Street Journal editorial page, she has no reason to think that the views expressed there are those of her broadband provider.”

By delivering content requested by customers, broadband providers are acting in the same role as telephone companies, the FCC said.

First Amendment objections have been briefly raised by AT&T, CenturyLink, CTIA-The Wireless Association, and the United States Telecom Association. The argument that net neutrality rules violate broadband providers' First Amendment rights was also made by Verizon back in 2012.

In the current case, the First Amendment objections have been made most forcefully by Alamo Broadband, a small provider in Texas. Alamo argued that ISPs “exercise the same editorial discretion as cable television operators in deciding which speech to transmit.”

The FCC countered that cable TV is different from Internet access because cable TV systems have limited capacity on which to carry channels. ISPs, by contract, face no technological obstacles preventing them from providing access to all lawful Internet content, the FCC said. No-blocking and no-throttling rules thus will not reduce access to any other content, whether offered by third parties or the broadband companies themselves, the FCC argued.


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