ACLU Says Preservation Of Network Neutrality Is A Key Free Speech Issue Of Our Time
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WASHINGTON – Protecting the Internet against content discrimination by broadband carriers is crucial to protecting First Amendment rights in the age of modern technology, the American Civil Liberties Union said today in a new report on network neutrality. In the report, "Net Neutrality 101," the ACLU urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create strong policies that prevent Internet gatekeepers from exploiting their role for private gain. The report characterizes the need for "net neutrality" as a leading free speech issue of our time.
"In this day and age, the Internet is the main way Americans exercise their free speech rights, and until now, network neutrality principles have always been respected," said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Unfortunately, recent developments have opened the way for giant telecoms to begin tinkering with the open structure of the Internet, threatening its role as a forum for free speech. The FCC must take action to preserve the Internet as a free and open forum for all."
Under net neutrality principles, network owners would be barred from favoring some speech or speakers while discriminating against others. But as today's report explains, a recent court decision, combined with changing technology and business practices, have given large broadband companies that provide users with Internet access not only the incentive but also the means to interfere with users' Internet data in order to further their own interests, thereby interfering with users' free speech.
"There has been a lot of confusion around network neutrality – some of it created intentionally – so in this report we have tried to provide a clear guide to the issue and why the FCC needs to act," said Jay Stanley, policy analyst with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project and primary author of the report. "Many people don't realize that we may be entering a whole new stage in the Internet's history, where the telecoms have much more power over how people use the Internet. Keeping the hands of big telecom companies off our Internet traffic is just as important as keeping the government's hands off it."
In its report, the ACLU called on the FCC to apply longstanding "common carrier" rules that would bar network owners from halting, slowing or otherwise tampering with the transfer of data to Internet users. Common carrier rules included by Congress in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 already apply to most forms of telecommunications but are not yet applied to broadband Internet service.
"We don't let the phone company provide callers with inferior service when they disapprove of the person being called or the content of the conversation – and we shouldn't allow that kind of discrimination online either," said Stanley. "Common carrier rules have been part of our legal tradition for centuries and have long been applied to infrastructures crucial to the economic development of our nation, from canals and railroads to the telegraph and telephone. These rules have already been written into the law by Congress; the FCC should apply them to broadband."
The full text of the ACLU's report is available online at: www.aclu.org/free-speech-technology-and-liberty/network-neutrality-101-why-government-must-act-preserve-free-and-