Boulder's Silicon Flatiron conference looks to play role in future of open Internet

Daily Camera
By Alicia Wallace, Camera Business Writer

Boulder served as the birthplace for the definition of “network neutrality.”

It was a discussion at a 2003 Silicon Flatirons conference that contributed to Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu’s coining of the concept of net neutrality – a regulatory regime designed to ensure open access to the Internet.

And in the wake of a significant federal court ruling last week affecting net neutrality, Boulder very well could play a role in how the open Internet is governed in the future.

Federal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler and Maureen Ohlhausen, commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, are scheduled to speak next month at the annual Digital Broadband Conference hosted by the University of Colorado’s Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship.

The two-day conference on Internet protocol and policy – an event in which Wheeler is slated to deliver the closing keynote speech – was scheduled well before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down portions of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order.

Last week in a case brought by Verizon Wireless against the FCC, a three-judge appeals court panel ruled 2-1 that FCC overstepped its bounds by imposing regulations on service providers and basing those regulations on existing common carrier obligations.

When the FCC chose to not define broadband and wireless service providers as telecommunications carriers, those Internet service providers were thus exempted from existing telecommunications laws, Judge David Tatel wrote on behalf of the panel.

“That said, even though the commission has general authority to regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates,” Tatel wrote.

Last week’s ruling could result in broadband providers charging “edge providers” such as YouTube and Google to deliver priority services, said Philip J. Weiser, dean of CU’s Law School.

“Traditionally, under telecommunication law, you could charge someone for a service, but you would need to provide it on non-discriminatory basis for all,” Weiser said. “What the FCC did here was a step beyond that, banning an entire class of services – prioritized Internet offerings.”

The FCC’s Wheeler has said the commission is considering an appeal.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, expressed his concern about the ruling.

“I am highly troubled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s recent decision striking down the FCC’s Open Internet Principles,” Polis said in a statement e-mailed to the Daily Camera. “As a member of the Internet community, I care deeply about protecting free and open access to the Internet and continue to support net neutrality in Congress today and look forward to trying to find a way in light of this ruling to move forward”

Last week’s ruling, however, did not kill the concept of an open Internet or the ability to innovate, Weiser said, noting the judges’ recognition that the FCC has “general authority to regulate.”

“Net neutrality is not dead,” Weiser said. “There is even good news in this ruling, and before anyone gets too panicked, I think you have to see what happens next. And there are a lot of scenarios.”

Weiser said he expects that broadband and wireless providers will be cautious in their adoption of paid services and related actions. He said he also expects for the FCC to go back to the drawing board and further clarify its approach to net neutrality.

Silicon Flatirons’ conference could help contribute to that conversation, he said.

“(The discussions at the conference) are going to get to the heart of these issues,” he said. “Another question is could the FTC and antitrust law play an adequate role? That’s another line of discussion that you can see happening …”

“I think it’s fair to say our discussion could influence the FCC.”

Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at 303-473-1332, or

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