Net neutrality fight set for September

It’s a date: Verizon and the FCC square off Sept. 9. That’s when a federal appeals court in Washington will hear oral arguments in a case that could have a broad effect on Internet traffic.

Verizon is challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules. Among other things, the rules call for fixed-broadband providers to provide unfettered access to the Internet, without throttling traffic or charging extra for access regardless of the source or destination of the content.

The FCC rules, issued in December 2010, were criticized as both heavy-handed and too weak. Verizon and other opponents said the rules are meddlesome and that the FCC shouldn’t have the power to regulate Internet traffic; proponents said the rules did not go far enough because they didn’t apply to mobile broadband — which the FCC deemed in its early stages at the time. Mobile has, of course, come a long way since then.

The rules also left the door open for tiered pricing for broadband access; at the time, many Internet users in the United States were largely used to paying one rate for unlimited access. Now, tiered pricing plans for both land-based and mobile broadband are common.

The long-awaited hearing comes after the FCC’s net neutrality rules survived a 2011 attempt to overturn them. There have also been other court challenges, some of which have been consolidated into the Verizon case. 

The hearing also comes after a report that amid the explosion of Internet traffic, some tech companies already are paying broadband providers so their users can access services quickly and smoothly. The Wall Street Journal wrote recently that Google, Facebook and Microsoft are paying companies such as Time Warner and Comcast, but that the type of direct connections they’re paying for don’t seem to violate the principle of net neutrality.

Netflix — whose streaming-video offerings are known to suck up a lot of bandwidth — isn’t shelling out money like the others so far, according to the WSJ. As we wrote in 2010, Netflix content-delivery network Level 3 Communications battled Comcast over the broadband provider’s charging it “toll,” pointing out that the move amounted to Comcast preferring its own competing offerings over Netflix’s. The WSJ report says the fight has yet to be resolved. Netflix is now reportedly in talks with broadband providers such as Comcast about “compromise solutions.”


Photo from Reuters


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