Obama Gives His Support for Net Neutrality and for the Classification of ISPs as Common Carriers

By Max Burke

This past Monday, President Obama formally addressed the ongoing dispute over whether the Internet should be “open” and “neutral.” In a written statement and an accompanying video, the President asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “ implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”

In case you haven’t seen or read any technology-related news this past year, here’s a quick primer on what Neil Irwin of The New York Times described as “one of the most important policy disputes that will determine the future of the Internet.” Net neutrality, or open Internet, is the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) “should treat all Internet traffic equally” and should not be able control what websites users can or can’t access. This is essentially the system we have been living under since the dawn of the Internet. But ISPs, including Comcast and Verizon, want to be able to manage some of that access by collecting fees from certain content providers (e.g. Netflix) “in exchange for special access to Internet users.” As Irwin noted, this type of paid prioritization is essentially the business model of cable television providers (many of whom are also ISPs). And like the “boom in content for cable television customers,” ISPs believe there would be a similar “explosion of creativity on the Internet” if they were able to prioritize websites and applications. Continue reading

Congress Moves to Remove Child Sex-Trafficking from Online Marketplaces

By Max Burke

There is a small political movement afoot to combat child sex trafficking online. Representative Ann Wagner of Missouri recently introduced a bill called the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act, which would make it unlawful to knowingly advertise certain commercial sex acts. The bill has quickly gained co-sponsors, and it joins other bills that are intended to target sex trafficking. Although SAVE does not distinguish between online advertisers and print advertisers (indeed, it does not mention anything Internet-related), its sponsors have stated that the bill is “designed to close Internet marketplaces that host advertisements for the commercial exploitation of minors.”

Prostitution and child sex trafficking in America is an enormous underground industry that has moved from the streets to online marketplaces like Backpage.com, a classified advertising website. Unfortunately, law enforcement and prosecutors are finding it difficult to fully thwart online sex trafficking because Backpage and other websites are hiding behind Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields Internet service providers (ISPs) from liability for third party postings. Courts have ruled that this section provides immunity to websites that host classified ads, even if there are ads for prostitution or child sex trafficking. This immunity protects ISPs against both state criminal prosecution and civil suits by victims.

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