The death of Net neutrality: Five quick thoughts

This is bad news for all of us online. Here are five quick thoughts.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Today, a federal appeals court rejected the FCC's claim that Comcast couldn't "sculpt" Internet traffic and block the flow of BitTorrent data.

This effectively put a stake in the heart of Net neutrality. It sets a precedent for all such cases, and, in effect, allows Internet carriers of all types to adjust their traffic in any way they wish.

This is bad news for all of us online. Here are five quick thoughts:

#1 Killing Net neutrality means big players always win

There could come a time when your access to favorite sites is slowed or stopped, just because those favorite sites couldn't pay some kind of exorbitant access fee.

This ruling opens the door to tiers of pricing for data transit, making the Internet superhighway into a toll road.

Anyone who's driven on Route 287 vs. the New Jersey Parkway knows the toll road is often a lot slower.

#2 Say goodbye to Skype and VOIP

Are you enjoying all that free voice communication you've had with Skype? Did you enjoy calling your relatives back in the old country -- and not having to spend a dime to take all the time with them you wanted?

Get ready to say goodbye. VOIP and cell phones having been killing the land-line business, but voice communication carriers love making money with all the little nickle-and-dime doodads they charge.

VOIP and Skype eliminated that. But if they can legally charge to carry Skype traffic (or just straight block it), ISPs stand to win and you will lose.

#3 Attack on free speech

This is a bit of a "what-if," but what if a company with one political leaning bought a broadband supplier and blocked all the traffic from anything with a different political leaning?

Given that at the "last mile," most of us only have one or two choices for broadband supplier, this could effectively block access to any competing ideological view.

Without Net neutrality, this is more possible than you might think.

#4 Killing Net neutrality could screw up getting real work done

Wikipedia reports an interesting case where the reset packets sent by Comcast to block BitTorrent uploads also interfered with legitimate traffic from enterprise clients, including Lotus Notes.

By deregulating the open nature of the Internet, the possibility exists that certain applications could be favored by certain networks. Use Outlook? Well then you better not consider Network A. Use Gmail, well, then you better not consider Network B.

It'll be a mess.

#5 It ain't over until it's over

Just because the FCC lost this case doesn't mean the whole Net neutrality battle is over. Far from it. Net neutrality doesn't just pit small vs. large or ideology vs. ideology. Oh, no. It's also pits ginormous against ginormous.

What happens if Google, say, buys an ISP and decides to block Microsoft? Godzilla vs. Megatron.

What happens if News Corporation (which owns MySpace and Fox News) decides it needs to buy a broadband supplier so it can slow down access to Facebook and other news networks? Mechagodzilla vs. Gorosaurus.

See where I'm going here? Net neutrality means everyone is equal on the net. When everyone isn't equal, some companies will try to yank the chains of other companies and battles will ensue, keeping this debate in the courts for years.

Plus, the FCC has more tricks up its sleeve. If the FCC loses the right to regulate the Internet, it will effectively lose much of its reason to exist, as more and more communication goes online.

Hot dogs, got your hot dogs right here. Gonna be a heck of a fight!

See also: Comcast wins U.S. Appeal Court case, denies FCC oversight authority

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