Influential Wu Pans Verizon's Argument Against Neutrality Regs

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Tim Wu, the law professor who coined the term "net neutrality," has joined a host of other industry observers in asking a federal appeals court to uphold the Federal Communications Commission's neutrality rules.

Wu filed his own friend-of-the-court brief that takes aim at Verizon's argument that the regulations impinge its free-speech rights. He argues that the company's interpretation is at odds with more than 100 years of common carrier rules, which prohibit content transmittors -- like telephone companies -- from picking and choosing which calls to put through based on content.

The neutrality rules, which took effect last year, ban wireless and wireline broadband providers from blocking sites or competing applications. The regulations also prohibit wireline providers from engaging in unreasonable discrimination.

Verizon is asking an appeals court to vacate the rules. The telecom says the FCC lacked authority to enact the regulations, and that the rules restrict the free-speech rights of broadband providers by requiring them to transmit all manner of content.

But Wu says that accepting Verizon's argument would open all common-carrier regulations to free-speech challenges. "Transmitters similar to Verizon have been subject to non-discrimination duties similar to those imposed by the [FCC's] order since the 1840s. There is no way to hold the order unconstitutional without implying the same for much of more than a century and a half of similar regulations," he argues in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C.

Wu also says Verizon's argument blurs the distinction between carriers -- such as itself, or companies like FedEx -- and publishers. "Erasing the line between publishers and transmitters, by granting Verizon the First Amendment protections reserved for publishers, would break sharply with more than a century of historical practice and have unpredictable consequences," he argues.

He adds that the public at large doesn't equate broadband providers with publishers able to decide what to post. "The articles a newspaper runs are understood to be part of, and the responsibility of, the newspaper. "If a blogger wrote something outrageous on the Internet, it would be absurd to complain by saying 'Can you believe the blog Verizon ran yesterday?' "

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2 comments about "Influential Wu Pans Verizon's Argument Against Neutrality Regs".
  1. Andre Szykier from maps capital management , November 23, 2012 at 12:50 p.m.
    Not surprising that Verizon wants to go back to the Ma Bell days. Remember when it was illegal to own a phone and you had to rent one from the phone company? They need to separate their various business units into two categories: (1) network and (2) commercial services. The network still remains neutral to all users while the commercial services must compete with third party competitors. Not surprising that Verizon has dropped its mobile app marketplace given that both Apple and Google cleaned their clock in the market. They just don't have the management skills to be an innovator in marketing. This is a leftover from the Bell head days. I know, I was one of them and glad I left management early in my career. Never looked back
  2. Domenico Tassone from Viewthrough Measurement Consortium , November 24, 2012 at 7:22 p.m.
    Why does the gubment have the right to tell a private network business how they have to treat data? Sorry the Internet is not a utility. When you invite the heavy hand of the gubment in to regulate the Internet, don't be surprised about the quid pro quo when: 1) there is a gubment kill switch, 2) massive secret DHS databases to abuse of our constitutional right to privacy and 3) selective persecution of hackers that the gubment doesn't like.