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Editorial: Concern over ‘net neutrality’

As many communities in western Massachusetts continue to try to find that on-ramp to the Internet’s information highway’s fast lane, a different type of trouble could just be around the bend that would add a new wrinkle — the fight over “net neutrality.”

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against regulations that the Federal Communications Commission has put in place to preserve the openness of the Internet. Essentially, the rules were meant to provide balance between customers and broadband providers, who would have to treat all Internet traffic equally.

What that meant was that providers couldn’t block or slow down content that might be in competition with their own interests. Nor could they raise fees based upon the kind of streaming or downloading an Internet user might be doing.

Those arguing against a “net neutral” approach said that they had incurred the costs of building and maintaining the Internet infrastructure and that these regulations impeded making improvements to the system and innovation.

Innovations, though, are also a concern for the FCC. “We will consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement released after the verdict.

While the court said the FCC has oversight when it comes to the Internet, the judges determined that these regulations did not mesh with how the FCC has classified broadband. Unlike the telephone companies that fall under the common carrier category, broadband is seen as an information service, therefore leading to the decision that the FCC was overreaching.

The ruling should be seen as a message to regulators to go back to the drawing board. In doing so, there is a strong argument to be made that the biggest broadband providers — Verizon, Comcast for example — have carved out their territories leaving the public with little recourse when it comes to reaping the benefits of true competition.

The interests of the public should be protected and that includes keeping the flow of the Internet wide open.

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