U.S. carrier Verizon and the FCC are staging a heavyweight battle over the balance between equal consumer service access to data online and the control that Verizon believes it should have over content, data transportation and its Internet channels.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission and one of the largest providers of Internet access in the United States have taken their argument to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where oral arguments will be heard this week.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a number of telecommunications firms believe they should be able to use the vast networks they have constructed to tap into additional revenue streams. For example, fees could be charged to content providers in order to 'fast track' content to customers -- which will boost profit for firms in a concentrated, competitive environment.
In comparison, the U.S. agency says that Internet pipelines should be kept open, giving content providers an equal ability to reach consumers -- whether movies, e-commerce websites or medical services are on offer. If access is monetized, then the FCC believes this could tilt the market in favor of capital-rich ISPs, preventing the next big thing -- such as a new social media site or search engine -- from having the opportunity to succeed.
Verizon's case centers around whether the FCC does, or should, have the authority to tell ISPs "that they can't give priority to some Internet services or adjust fees and speeds to handle data-heavy traffic like video," according to the WSJ.
The battle highlights the constant struggle faced by regulators and Internet service companies. As firms look for new ways to generate revenue streams, the FCC's "net neutrality" rules, imposed in 2011, are proving to be an obstacle.
The FCC regulates telecommunications services in the United States. The agency's net neutrality rules prevent ISPs from blocking or discriminating against different types of lawful Internet traffic, but allows firms to do what they have to as long as they adhere to "reasonable network management." Companies are also required to disclose network-management practices.
The guidelines were put in place after the agency said "several broadband access providers had blocked or degraded service," including Comcast's past blocking of users accessing BitTorrent.
The agency attempted to punish Comcast in 2010, but lost the battle on appeal after Comcast argued that the FCC did not have the authority to penalize it. Another loss could make communications companies further question how much authority the agency has to regulate Internet service providers, especially as communication continues to shift from the traditional telephone to the web, which has altered how much money can be made from providing communication channels.
Verizon says that the FCC is overstepping the mark, whereas the U.S. agency wants to maintain a balance of equality for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
"This will determine whether the laws and regulations of the past -- the pre-Internet age -- will apply to the Internet's future," said Scott Cleland, the chairman of NetCompetition told the New York Times. “It will determine the regulatory power and authority of the F.C.C. in the 21st century."