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Originally published January 15, 2014 at 3:58 PM | Page modified January 15, 2014 at 3:59 PM

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Editorial: FCC must protect Internet users, net neutrality

A federal Court of Appeals ruling exposed the Federal Communications Commission’s failure to ensure the basic interests of Internet users.

Seattle Times Editorial

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INTERNET users felt a cold, raw wind when already scant consumer and free-speech protections were stripped away by a federal Court of Appeals ruling.

Do not blame the judges for the demise of net neutrality, which compels, as the court notes, broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic the same, regardless of source.

Responsibility for exposing broadband users to the whims of Internet service providers falls directly on the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC has the power and authority, and continuing opportunity, to regulate Internet service providers as common carriers. The commission twice fiddled with the rules to avoid a statutory definition that imposes real prohibitions.

The FCC exempted broadband providers from the obligations of common-carrier status, and then employed other statutory language in pursuit of a facade of net neutrality.

Predictably, the broadband industry responded with a lawsuit that argued the FCC could not enforce those rules. The court agreed.

What the court ruling basically said was: do it right. Indeed, the court virtually asks the FCC to put free speech and access protections in place, via the proper legal path and framework.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the court was right about its challenge of FCC Open Internet rules. He said he was committed to keeping the Internet a free and open platform. All options were open, Wheeler said, including appeal. Don’t bother.

Start over. Include Internet service providers in the statutory realm of common carriers. Treat Internet traffic the same as phone service.

Preclude predictable efforts by the broadband industry to interfere with service speeds, content and access, and to drive up rates.

As Craig Aaron, president and chief executive officer of Free Press, an advocacy group on media and technology issues, said after the ruling, “The agency must follow its statutory mandate to make broadband communications networks open, accessible, reliable and affordable for everyone.”

The federal court said do it right, not don’t do it. The FCC must protect access to the Internet for all users.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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