Stephen Foley: It's time to fight for net neutrality

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The Independent Online

US Outlook: This hasn't been the best week for those of us who think that internet users should be guaranteed equal access to the information superhighway. The principle of net neutrality means no "fast lanes" for corporations, who want to pay more so that their video content can be allowed to overtake that of smaller bloggers and start-up companies. It also means that internet service providers cannot throttle heavy users, as the US cable firm Comcast did when it throttled some customers who were using BitTorrent to share music and video.

The Federal Communications Commission's fine on Comcast was thrown out by an appeals court because the regulator had overstepped its authority. The ruling means that the FCC's promise to impose net neutrality guarantees are suddenly open to legal challenge, which means this issue may not be settled for many years to come.

That's important, because a clear precedent in favour of net neutrality in the biggest communications market in the world would have resonance beyond the US. In the UK, Ofcom is going to be consulting on this issue, too.

The social and business dynamism unleashed by the web would shudder to a crawl without net neutrality, which means it is too important to leave in legal limbo. The FCC has been relying here on dubious loopholes in existing legislation to allow it to regulate the internet, and has reacted to the ruling by promising to find a different loophole to pursue the net neutrality agenda.

That's not good enough. Net neutrality campaigners should seek to enshrine the principle in law. Helpfully, Google is on side, which should help counter the lobbying might that the telecoms and cable firms have in Congress. It's time to step up the fight.

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