The plan by the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate its net neutrality will give much more leeway to Internet service providers. However, a federal court is expected to weigh in on a case that could dramatically expand the scope of that deregulation, leaving the government less prepared to handle net neutrality complaints in the future, consumer groups say.
(Net neutrality is the principle that Internet providers should not be able to speed up some websites while slowing down others, particularly in exchange for money — a tactic industry critics say could hurt innovation and prevent the growth of start-ups.)
The case involves AT&T and the Federal Trade Commission. At stake is the FTC’s ability to prosecute companies that act in unfair or deceptive ways.
The stakes are high as the FCC prepares to transfer more responsibility to the FTC for handling net neutrality complaints. If AT&T gets its way in the case, the FTC’s ability to pursue misbehaving companies — over net neutrality issues or otherwise — may be sharply curtailed.
“A vote to approve the [FCC’s net neutrality plan], followed by a decision favorable to AT&T Mobility by the Ninth Circuit, would therefore create a ‘regulatory gap’ that would leave consumers utterly unprotected,” Public Knowledge said in a letter this week asking the FCC to delay its vote.