The United States Appeals Court ruled against the Federal Communications Commission and their net neutrality rules in the case of Verizon v. FCC on Tuesday, Jan. 14. “Net neutrality” is essentially the same as the concept of “open Internet,” where the Internet is a level playing field for consumers to decide what they want to look at and share, creating a fair environment for competition.
In the ruling of Verizon v. FCC, the Court of Appeals decided to eliminate net neutrality and rule in favor of private companies. Specifically, this means that companies can now regulate broadband usage of consumers.
Many fear this will lead to a tiered Internet. Companies now have the power to slow down or block competing websites from being accessed. Theoretically, a company could inhibit the usage of companies like Netflix if they have a similar website they wish for their consumers to use. The biggest issue with this is the inability of the consumers to decide what is the best or most popular, since companies may choose to exercise their power of making the decision for their customers.
Furthermore, since Internet service providers will be able to regulate bandwidth as well, services such as Google and Netflix may have to pay extra in order to keep utilizing the amount of bandwidth that they do. This could lead to some content loading at regular speeds while other content takes a longer time. It could also lead to a lesser quality of websites if sites that use more bandwidth choose not to pay extra.
There is reason to believe, however, that companies will not instantly choose to create the feared tiered Internet. For one, companies do still have to answer to their customers. If even one company chooses not to exercise the right to regulate site, app, and broadband usage, then customers who are deeply unhappy with the companies who do regulate usage will be likely to switch over to the company that does not.
The ruling does not take away any of the FCC’s authority. In fact, it gives the FCC a stronger foothold in Internet authority than it had previously (which was not that much). The main issue in the case is over the definition of Internet service providers (i.e. Verizon, AT&T), since the Commission was classifying Internet service providers as more common carriers in an attempt to regulate activity. They are said to be best off redefining “internet service providers.” The FCC has stated that they may file an appeal in order to question the constitutionality of further privatization of the Internet. Congress also has the option of passing a law to grant the FCC more authority.
While the ruling goes against the current government stance on moving toward net neutrality, it does not necessarily define a trend moving in the opposite direction. The ruling of the Appeals Court against the FCC was not so much a question of whether there should be net neutrality or not, and was more a question of what kind of authority the FCC holds. In any event, many feel that an appeal is likely.