Computer Cos. to FCC: Leave Sec. 230 Alone

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The Computer & Communications Industry Association said the FCC should keep its regulatory mitts off Sec. 230, the Communications Act provision that provides its members with immunity from civil liability for most third-party content hosted on their sites.

In reply comments on the Trump Administration's requests that the FCC find a way to regulate social media content by "clarifying" the limits of Sec, 230, CCIA took issue with the commenters who argue that the section was meant to protect garage start-ups not companies with market cap the equivalent of the GDP of some countries.

For example, AT&T, which supports an FCC review, in its comments cited a Ninth Circuit court decision in arguing that "this corner of 'the Internet has outgrown its swaddling clothes and no longer needs to be so gently coddled.'"

CCI calls that assertion that Sec. 230 was only for internet infants revisionist history. "Section 230 was not, as some proponents suggest, solely “intended to protect struggling startups at the dawn of the internet. The text of the statute makes clear that online innovation was flourishing and Congress intended “to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services."

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CCIA said tinkering with Sec. 230 could actually favor larger players at the expense of smaller ones. "Impairing Section 230 because some smaller firms have now grown runs the risk of entrenching larger firms at the expense of startups," it said. In any event, it is Congress' business do deal with Sec. 230. 

As to the argument AT&T and others make that Sec. 230 allows edge players to play by "radically different rules," CCIA says that is a misconception. It argues that any company that provides an interactive computer service is covered, which can and does include libraries and news publishers, "among others."

Besides, it said, "content distributors from bookstores, to telephone companies, to radio and television broadcasters, to cable TV companies, all have extensive common law and First Amendment immunities from liability for materials they carry."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.