Net neutrality ruling: Verizon and other ISPs win, consumers could lose

A court has dealt a blow to net neutrality, paving the way for broadband providers to charge content providers for delivering traffic to their users.

For example, the ruling could prompt Internet service providers to require Netflix to pay to stream TV shows and movies to its customers. Or ISPs might want to slow down or even block traffic to certain sites in favor of other sites it owns or have partnerships with. The sites that may have to take on new expenses could then pass along those costs to their customers.

The three-member U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington today handed Verizon Communications a victory in its lawsuit against the FCC and its open Internet rules. The rules, which called for Internet providers to treat traffic equally, were adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010 and went into effect in 2011. As we wrote, the rules the FCC wrote made nobody happy. Opponents including Verizon saw the rules as an overreach; proponents objected to, among other things, the different standards the FCC applied to fixed broadband and wireless providers.

The rules were adopted under former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and were championed by the Obama administration. What will new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler do?

“We will consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans,” Wheeler said in a statement today.

As we wrote last week in another post about net neutrality, Wheeler said he’d keep an eye on AT&T’s new Sponsored Data program, which charges companies to deliver content that won’t count against customers’ mobile data plans.

Net neutrality supporters say allowing Internet providers to prioritize online traffic could dampen innovation and hinder efforts by small or startup companies. Larger companies such as Google also have advocated for net neutrality. (Google has reportedly been paying extra for smoother, faster access to its services.) Google would not comment about today’s ruling, but it referred us to the Internet Association’s statement — which seems to send a mixed message: “The Internet Association supports enforceable rules that ensure an open Internet, free from government control or discriminatory, anticompetitive actions by gatekeepers.”

The appeals court is the same one that sided with Comcast in its net neutrality fight in 2010, saying the FCC effectively had no authority to regulate broadband. The FCC had gone after Comcast for throttling BitTorrent file-sharing traffic in 2007.

Although the court said this time around that the FCC can issue general rules related to Internet traffic, it said the FCC did not explain its reasons for its rules well enough. The FCC “makes no distinction at all between the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules, seeking to justify both types of rules with explanations that, as we have explained, are patently insufficient,” the court said in its ruling.

What could possibly be next, besides an appeal to the Supreme Court: The FCC could attempt to rewrite the open Internet rules. Or Congress could get involved, and address the open Internet rules as well as the FCC’s authority to enforce them.

Update: In a statement, Verizon said it “remains committed to the open Internet that provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content when, where, and how they want. This will not change in light of the court’s decision.”


Verizon logo from Wikimedia Commons


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  • alrui

    The rampant corruption in government and corporations is appalling & its time we the people rise up against them!