Amicus Briefs Call Verizon’s Net Neutrality Court Arguments Hypocritical

Late last week several amicus briefs were filed taking exception to Verizon's argument in its federal court case against the FCC's net neutrality rules, calling their claim of "censorship" hypocritical. Those filing amicus briefs included the Center for Democracy and Technology (also co-signed by a group of law professors), a brief written by former FCC chief Reed Hundt (co-signed by several other former FCC commissioners), and

The thrust of their argument is that Verizon was trying to equate its own free speech rights with its role of being a conduit for the free speech of others. The groups acknowledge that Verizon has the right to control content it publishes itself, but that those First Amendment protections do not apply to when Verizon is transmitting the content of third parties – such as its subscribers. In fact, they point out that Verizon takes no legal responsibility for its users' content when it was convenient to do so making its free speech arguments empty.

"Verizon and other broadband providers are more akin to telephone companies," read the brief filed by the Center for Democracy and Technology and signed by a group of law professors. "Like the anti-discrimination obligations that apply to those companies, the Rules do not restrict or compel anyone’s speech but instead protect everyone’s speech by requiring that it be transmitted without interference."

Another brief filed by former FCC chief Reed Hundt and signed by several other former FCC commissioners echoes the sentiments of the CDT's amicus brief.

"There is nothing inherently expressive about transmitting others’ data packets, at a subscriber’s direction, over the Internet," the commissioners argue. And in their view, that means that regulating an ISP's routing policies does not raise First Amendment issues."

The CDT adds that Verizon can't have it both ways; if the ISP is going to say that it is simply a "passive conduit" for copyright purposes, then the decisions its makes on how it directs traffic on its networks cannot be considered "active" enough to deserve First Amendment protections.

The Hundt brief also notes that Verizon endorsed the idea of a neutral Internet in 2010 in an statement it issued with Google:

"The minute that anyone, whether from the government or the private sector, starts to control how people access and use the Internet would be the beginning of the end of the Net as we know it," reads a 2010 joint statement from Verizon and Google. "When a person accesses the Internet, he or she should be able to connect with any other person that he or she wants to."

Hundt's brief goes on to say that Verizon's current arguments are "at odds with common sense, with settled First Amendment law, and with the legal and societal understandings that Verizon has encouraged and benefited from."

Source: Ars Technica


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