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Free Speech Versus an Open Internet

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By David Byrd

Most Americans are fervent defenders of the First Amendment right of free speech. The definition of freedom of speech has been modified over the years to be both more expansive and in some cases restricted. However, it has persevered and remains fundamental to our political, legislative and judicial practices.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney was pilloried over his phrase “corporations are people too". Yet, he had a point, and if he had added two words — “corporations are ‘made of’ people too" — then his position would have been better understood.

This is a key distinction that even the Supreme Court acknowledged in its ruling on contributions to political campaigns. Corporations exist because of shareholders, investors and employees. These people as designated by the Supreme Court have the right to be heard both as individuals and through the companies where they work.

However, Verizon is taking freedom of speech to a new level.

Verizon, in its opposition to the FCC’s Preserving the Open Internet order in support of Net Neutrality, claims that the order violates its freedom of speech. Verizon explains that it has a right to exercise "editorial discretion" over their customer’s use of the Internet.

While the order faces legitimate challenges, this rationale is way out of bounds. Verizon should not have the right to modify or control what a paying customer lawfully views or does with its Internet access as a protection under the First Amendment.

The three FCC adopted rules are fairly simple:

  • Transparency. Broadband providers must disclose information regarding their network management practices, performance and the commercial terms of their broadband services.
  • No blocking. Fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices.
  • No unreasonable discrimination. Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service.

These rules appear to be fairly innocuous and probably logical to most people. The fact that the FCC is assuming that it has the authority to impose them on carriers and service providers is the point of contention.

Verizon and MetroPCS should step away from this precipice and focus on challenging this expansion of power by the FCC. Freedom of speech is a right that should not be in the mix of defense tactics in fight against the Open Internet order or the principle of net neutrality.

David Byrd is chief marketing officer and executive vice president of channel sales for ANPI ZONE . He previously spent five years as vice president of marketing and sales for Broadvox and before that was vice president of channels and alliances for Eftia and Telcordia.

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