On Monday, January 14, vital portions of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) Open Internet rules were struck down in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The rules were put in place in 2010 to preserve net neutrality, meaning that all Internet traffic had to be treated equally.
Verizon challenged these rules, arguing that the FCC lacked the authority to impose such rules and that the rules thwarted its First Amendment rights. The Court ruled 2-1 that the FCC based the rules on a flawed legal argument, despite the fact that they have the authority to regulate broadband access.
The ruling means that Internet providers are now free to charge companies for preferential access, which obviously benefits those that can afford to pay the most. As explained by Keith Wagstaff on NBC News:
Now, the door is open for companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile to create a tiered Internet, where those who can pay the most can utilize the fastest connections, while others are stuck transmitting information at slower speeds.
In addition, Internet providers can now, in theory, block traffic arbitrarily. Verizon assured customers that it would not block content following the ruling, but left open the possibility of preferential access for particular services.
While we acknowledge that the Court’s ruling could possibly encourage innovation by content providers, we are concerned that the ruling risks the openness of the Internet, which has been a defining characteristic of the web since it came into being.
Harvey Anderson of Mozilla cautioned that the Court’s decision is alarming for Internet users because it will also provide broadband operators the legal ability to block any service they choose. Anderson said that this undermines a “free and unbiased Internet.”
The ability for Internet providers to sell preferential access to their networks might also mean that “new services might get snuffed out by bigger, more established companies before the startups have a chance to succeed.” As a startup ourselves, we at WP Engine worry about this possibility and how it might affect other growing businesses and potentially stifle future innovation. We also worry about risks to the availability and deliverability of all our client’s sites to any internet user.
WP Engine is built on WordPress, the largest open-source content management system on the web, which was built to democratize publishing. The openness of WordPress has, over the past 10 years, created countless opportunities for tens of thousands of people worldwide to innovate, publish new ideas on the web, and build successful businesses from the ground up.
With these founding principles in mind, we declare our support of a free, open, and unbiased Internet, where everyone—big or small—has an ability to innovate, make great products, and improve people’s lives.