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Setting the Record Straight on Net Neutrality

Jay Stanley,
Senior Policy Analyst,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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December 11, 2009

The cable industry is saying that Network Neutrality would violate the First Amendment because it would prohibit them from “expressing themselves” by distorting the flow of information over the Internet wires they control. Marvin Ammori has posted an interesting response.

Our view is that it boils down to this: The telecoms play two different roles: as speakers, and access providers.

  1. Internet service providers (ISPs), including cable and telecom companies acting as such, provide information and services. They deliver video feeds and web pages and other content of their own. That is fine and in that regard, they absolutely do have a First Amendment right to provide whatever content they want to provide, or not provide.
  2. But ISPs also play another role: they perform the public function of controlling the wires through and across which everyone’s speech flows. When they control the pipes, it is a free-speech imperative that they do that in a non-discriminatory way – just like the phone companies can’t decide what calls can be made over the phone – to ensure that free speech belongs to all.

It is essential that companies not be permitted to use role number two to advance their own particular interests and viewpoints per their free speech rights under role number one.

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