While many thought the ongoing Net Neutrality saga had calmed late last year when the FCC finally laid out a basic framework for keeping the Internet open and free, you just knew that carriers and other interested parties just couldn’t leave the situation alone. This week Verizon let its displeasure with the FCC’s Net Neutrality standards once again be known, this time claiming the framework violates the carrier’s Constitutional Rights, specifically the First and Fifth Amendments.
While there may a case to be made about the government abusing its authority over the autonomous wireless carriers, it still remains to be seen exactly how Verizon’s right to free speech is being violated by Net Neutrality, evidence in my mind that Verizon is grasping at straws to try to reign in the FCC.
Despite often being the over-used bastion of the desperate, by bringing the Constitution into its brief filed with U.S. Court of Appeals Verizon is clearly hoping to put this issue to rest once and for all: Should the Courts find that the FCC has indeed infringed on the Constitution, we can consider this ongoing push for an open Internet, for all intents and purposes, dead…and the FCC once again completely neutered of all authority and power.
Long a deeply polarizing issue, the Net Neutrality debate comes down to one simple fact: who should control the Internet? Much like the telecommunications industry several decades ago, many advocates of Net Neutrality see the Internet as a public service, something essential to civic existence and thus something that needs to be regulated by the government. The opposition, of course, sees the Internet as private enterprise; carriers provide access to the Internet, they should get to decide how it’s controlled and what people pay to use it.
Verizon, it comes as no surprise, falls into the latter category, frustrated by the fact that the FCC is once again trying to meddle in how it delivers the Internet to its customers, how it manages its network, and how much it charges its customer base for the privilege of Internet access.
In regards to infringing on the First Amendment, Verizon’s brief claims that, “Broadband networks are the modern-day microphone by which their owners engage in First Amendment speech.” Clearly spin doctor speak for “we have little to base our complaint on here, but we want it to be heard.”
Despite the cry of Constitutional infringement however, Verizon’s real complaint seems to have nothing to do Rights violations at all, incorporating a violation of free speech in an effort to give more weight to their actual complaint: the FCC has already been told it has no authority to mandate standards for the Internet.
To that end, Verizon’s real claim is that the FCC has already been told by Congress that it has no authority to mandate Internet standards, a decision made in Comcast v. FCC back in 2010. Verizon is arguing that the FCC has been able to ‘conjure’ up a role for itself in Internet management, when it has no authority to be in such a role, nor is that role actually needed. “The FCC has acted without statutory authority to insert itself into this crucial segment of the American economy, while failing to show any factual need to do so,” Big Red asserts.
While I wouldn’t be surprised if once again Congress votes against the FCC, effectively robbing them of any and all regulatory power, the back and forth will surely continue until the government decides, once and for all, who controls the Internet.