The battle for net neutrality: judicial wars and public protests

    It's been the third month since the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) abandoned the country's established approach to regulating providers. This decision is also called the rejection of the principles of network neutrality.

    The December FCC decision triggered numerous disputes over the Commission’s policies, as well as attempts to reverse the vote. Large IT corporations oppose the rejection of network neutrality. It became clear that the abolition of network neutrality will affect other countries that have not yet gone the way of the United States in this matter. In support of this, Russian providers in January asked about the possibility of independently restricting traffic to specific sites.

    Two months are left before the decision officially enters into force in the United States . After that, providers will be able to block traffic or provide one or another source with priority at their discretion. We wrote in more detail about what network neutrality is and where it came from in the first part of this series of articles, and about the first conflicts between authorities and operators in the second part .

    In this article, we will consider how the approach to network neutrality, which was in force until December 2017, was formed. / Flickr / Free Press Action Fund / CC

    Case Heard: FCC vs. Major Providers

    At the end of 2010, the Commission adopted the main provisions of net neutrality with the support of the new chairman. They require greater openness from communication providers and oppose traffic discrimination and blocking content permitted by law. This did not suit operators for a simple reason - in the conditions of network neutrality, they lost money. The logic of providers is as follows: if a subscriber uses the services of a competitor, he does not use ours, which means we are losing money. Under the new rules, for example, the Time Warner Cable provider could not slow down the connection speed of the subscriber who is trying to access the NBC Universal site, owned by Time Warner Cable rival Comcast.

    The operators' reaction to the FCC decision was not long in coming - the largest US subscriber in the US, Verizon, went to court a month after the adoption of the new rules . Verizon has followed in the footsteps of another operator, Comcast, which has disputed the FCC’s right to regulate providers' relationships with traffic sources. Recall, a US court ruled in favor of Comcast. But this happened even before the adoption of the rules of net neutrality.

    Soon to Verizon lawsuit joined players in the telecommunications market smaller - MetroPCS, the fifth at the time by the number of subscribers of the US operator. Soon after the adoption of the rules of net neutrality, he becamethe main participant in the new scandal. The provider’s tariffs, specially prepared for Samsung Craft phone owners, discriminated against Skype, Netflix and other popular web services.

    One way or another, the federal appeals court ruled that Verizon’s lawsuit was premature because the rules had not yet been published on the Federal Register.

    In the summer, the FCC from the Free Press initiative group complained about Google and Verizon. Google allegedly, at the request of the operator, turned off access to applications that allow the device to be used as mobile access point for the provider's subscribers. This complaint was also found to be premature.

    In September 2011, the Commission finally publishedrules of net neutrality with their planned entry into force in November. From this moment, the opponents of the new regulatory regime had the opportunity to challenge them, which, of course, took advantage of Verizon - the operator again went to court. In its lawsuit, the company said the FCC was trying to impose its own rules, which the Commission did not have authority to, and this created market uncertainty that ultimately crippled innovation. The FCC said it would defend itself in court.

    In the fall of the same year, the United States was borna movement against online piracy that actually contradicted the new rules of net neutrality. In accordance with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill, providers, search engines and advertisers became accomplices of a crime if the resource with which they are associated broadcasts or sells pirated content. It was understood that the listed parties are obliged by all available means to block such traffic on their own at the request of the copyright holder. SOPA also had an ideologically close draft PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) bill . It was mainly aimed at pirated content from foreign sites and also proposed a radical approach to the fight against copyright infringement.

    2011 came to an end, and Verizon's lawsuit was still pending. New Year began withprotests against PIPA and SOPA. The largest Internet companies opposed the initiatives that "threatened the free Internet." On January 18, Wikipedia and Reddit cut off access to their English-language sections for the whole day in support of the protest. This was successful - the next day, senators refused to consider controversial bills.

    Such support for the fight against restrictive laws and its consequences did not stop Verizon. In March, the operator continued to insist in court on its arguments against the new rules of net neutrality. According to the company, the new FCC rules not only unfairly overestimate the powers of the Commission, but also violate the constitutional rights of network owners. In particular, Verizon representatives referred to the First andThe fifth amendment regarding property management. The rules of network neutrality, according to the provider, contradict the First Amendment of the US Constitution - they limit the rights of network owners in controlling content on their networks. Because of this, Verizon cannot prioritize the traffic of its partners and advertisers.

    The commission was not only dealing with litigation with Verizon. She also investigated the Free Press complaint. In July, the FCC introducedthe investigation’s results are disappointing for the provider - Google really deleted 11 applications from its application store for Android devices at the request of Verizon, and this is a direct violation of the rules of network neutrality. FCC regulates only Internet service providers, so Google did not answer for this episode. And Verizon was fined $ 1.25 million.

    The next “caught in the hand" operator was AT&T. It turned out that the provider is going to limit the access of iPhone users to the FaceTime audio and video calling application. According to AT&T plans, it would be possible to make calls through this service only at a certain tariff. The FCC was to sort out the claims of the initiative groups whether AT&T violates the rules of network neutrality.

    Changes in the approach to regulating the Internet have occurred not only in the United States. In November 2012, the Netherlands became the second country in the world after Chile , which adopted the rules of net neutrality. A year earlier, the local monopolist provider KPN attempted to deal with WhatsApp, Skype and other services that competed with its offers. Parliament passed amendments that made this impossible. In response, providers raised prices for their tariffs.

    For the United States, 2012, like the previous one, ended in litigation. Verizon and MetroPCS did not back down and filed an appeal against another court decision regarding the rules of net neutrality.

    AT&T takes a step back in January 2013 - it partially returnsuser access to FaceTime and thus out of the war with the FCC. In May, the T-Mobile group of companies buys MetroPCS, and the provider also stops its fight with the Commission. Thus, Verizon remained the only provider that openly resisted FCC policies.

    In the fall, representatives of the FCC and Verizon met in court . The provider got the opportunity to present his position. Verizon's lawyer again spoke of a violation of the First and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution, and FCC officials argued that the rules of network neutrality were designed to “keep the Internet as an open platform.” The parties parted pending a final decision.

    The year ended for the Commissionthe appointment of a new chapter, Tom Wheeler. Tom was called the “cable industry lobbyist” and “the FCC adversary.” Shortly after taking office, he said that "Internet service providers should be able to charge Netflix and other companies for a higher speed for users." So Tom actually confirmed his disagreement with the principles of network neutrality.

    Net neutrality goes to the masses

    2014 began with a new blow for all supporters of net neutrality - the court ruled in favor of Verizon. The court ruled that the Internet cannot be classified as an information service. This is a key moment in the regulation of providers. The classification of a communication channel as a service implies that its owner is not obliged to “share” his infrastructure with competitors.

    The court actually gave permission to providers to give priority to this or that traffic, but on condition that subscribers will be notified about it. Although the Commission had the right to appeal the decision, in the spring there was information that the FCC would actually allow discrimination by providers. Operators will be able to charge companies for preferential terms on their networks.

    After a landmark court decision, leading publishers take on the task of informing users about its consequences - these are just a couple of examples: CNN , The New Yorker , Business Insider . Their efforts are not in vain - public protests gathered at the FCC headquarters . The problem of abandoning network neutrality reaches a new level when it is covered in its program by the host of the popular evening show, John Oliver. This leads to the fact that viewers begin to send their messages to the FCC in defense of network neutrality and bring down the system for accepting Commission comments.

    / Flickr / Timothy Vollmer / CC

    In the fall , protests continue in US cities . Large Internet companies - Twitter, Reddit, Netflix - join ordinary citizens . To demonstrate how the Internet can be without network neutrality, on September 10, thousands of sites spend the first Internet Slowdown Day . On this day, the pages of Kickstarter, Netflix, Etsy, Tumblr, Reddit are specially loaded for a long time, and users can learn more about the problem of network neutrality.

    Pressure grew on the FCC, and reached a peak in the fall, when President Obama spoke for stricter provisions and reclassification providers. The president saidthat "free and open Internet is as important to Americans as electricity and telephone services, and should be regulated as well." Tom Wheeler agreed with the president, although the FCC did not openly respond to Obama.

    The last highlight of 2014 in terms of the fight for network neutrality was the unexpected appearance of 60 manufacturing equipment companies, including Intel, IBM and Qualcomm, against the reclassification of broadband services. They warned that stricter rules for providers would not allow them to invest in the development of broadband. Thus, the opposition of network neutrality has replenished with new supporters. However, the US president was still among the enthusiasts of this concept.

    In the next article, we will examine how, over the course of three years, the Commission came to abandon network neutrality, and what such a decision might lead to.

    PS Previous posts from the series of the Battle for Network Neutrality:

    PPS A few more articles from the VAS Experts corporate blog:

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