A Washington, D.C.-based federal court heard arguments from a former Federal Communications Commission commissioner and First Amendment advocacy groups that the Obama FCC’s new “net neutrality” rules might allow the government to censor conservative outlets like Fox News or the Drudge Report.
According to the Washington Examiner, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit began hearing oral arguments on the case Dec. 4. A variety of advocacy groups claim the new rules, which went into effect in June and treat broadband providers as “conduits, not speakers” and “as a platform for expression,” could do just the opposite.
“If rules such as these are not reviewed under the most rigorous scrutiny possible, government favoritism and censorship masquerading as ‘neutrality’ will soon cascade to other forms of mass communication,” the Center for Boundless Innovation said in a brief.
Former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth wrote in another brief that the different ways the new plan treats broadband providers and content providers opens the door to government interference in what people see.
“In addition to compelling speech, the order impermissibly singles out broadband providers without imposing similar requirements on the speech of other Internet entities who also act as gatekeepers,” Furchtgott-Roth’s brief read.
Fred Campbell, president of the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology, told interviewers that since “the same theories the FCC relied on to impose its new regulations on Internet service providers are also applicable to companies like Apple and Netflix, the FCC could extend its regulatory reach much further in the future.
“This possibility raises the risk that Congress or the FCC could impose restrictions on Internet video and other services that have traditionally been imposed on over the air broadcasting and cable television, including the fairness doctrine that once put the government in charge of determining whether broadcasters were fairly representing both sides of an issue,” he said.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of the two commissioners who voted against the net neutrality plan, agreed.
“Is it unthinkable that some government agency would say the marketplace of ideas is too fraught with dissonance? That everything from the Drudge Report to Fox News … is playing unfairly in the online political speech sandbox?” Pai said. “I don’t think so”