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Net neutrality gets a kick in the teeth

A US court has ruled against the FCC's Open Internet regulations, putting the future of net neutrality completely up in the air.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled in the case of Verizon et al. v. Federal Communications Commission (FCC),and it's bad, bad news for net neutrality. The court struck down the FCC's Open Internet regulations.

Net Neutrality tombstone

These rules, as the FCC describes them, are there to preserve the Internet as we know it. Today's Internet is "open because it uses free, publicly available standards that anyone can access and build to, and it treats all traffic that flows across the network in roughly the same way. The principle of the Open Internet is sometimes referred to as “net neutrality.” Under this principle, consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what lawful content they want to access, create, or share with others. This openness promotes competition and enables investment and innovation."

So much for those noble ideas.

If this decision is upheld after a potential appeal to the US Supreme Court, Verizon and buddies will be free to make content providers pay extra to increase the speed to their content. Or, worse still, Verizon, et al. would be free to charge media companies, such as CBS, or Internet content providers, such as Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon, more money to get the same level of Internet broadband they do now.

And, who at the end of the day will really get charged more? I'll give you three guesses, and the first don't count. Yes, that's right, we the Internet users will end up paying more. The media companies and content providers will pass on the additional costs to you and me.

Thanks Verizon. Thanks a lot.

Some people, like my buddy Larry Seltzer can't see Verizon and the other ISPs doing this kind of thing to content providers. I can.

Think about it. Netflix eats up more Internet bandwidth than any other Internet service. Netflix's traffic keeps growing and it's about to explode. Netflix has started broadcasting a handful of shows in 4K Ultra HD. These shows will require a speed of approximately of 15.6 megabits per second (Mbps).

You don't think Verizon wants a piece of the action for providing the high-speed pipes 4K video will require? I sure would if I were in their shoes.

We've also seen in just the last few days that the content providers aren't happy about letting "free" content, such as over-the-air (OTA) TV on the Internet at all. Put these factors together and I see an Internet that's far less open not just to entertainment, but to all kinds of content.

None of this is set in stone yet. The next step for net neutrality is for the FCC to come up with a new set of rules. The Supreme Court must rule on the legality of OTA content being shared over the Internet.

Across the pond, the European Union is dead set in favor of net neutrality, so some companies might decide to host their Websites in Europe to avoid the US' regulations. I could see Google/YouTube or Netflix doing that.

Sound crazy? I think it would be crazy like a fox. The EU is already trying to grab a big hunk of American cloud services business because of NSA privacy fears, so why couldn't EU-based content delivery networks and website-hosting businesses host US regulation-free sites there as well? I'd consider it, if I were a content provider.

There's one good thing that might come of it. The US government may finally spell out how the Internet will be governed.

As George Foote a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney who works on FCC-related matters said, "The court has invited the FCC and Congress to finally come to grips with the digital, ubiquitous, riotous world of communications.  The FCC’s attempt to use the common carrier rules to regulate the Internet would never work, despite the very good policy of ensuring fair and competitive communications service.  The Internet simply cannot be regulated under rules written when there was a telephone monopoly.  Congress is reviewing the whole Communications Act and there is a new FCC Chairman.  The Court has asked them to get to work." Let's hope they do. 

This is all speculation now of course. Still, if the Supreme Court rules against sharing OTA TV over the Internet and Verizon get the rules set up the way it wants, the top-level ISPs become the de facto gatekeepers of the Internet. They'll decide what we can view and how much we'll pay for it.

I hate this idea. I've been using the Internet since the 70s and what I loved about it then, and what I love about it now is how open and free it is. If the Verizons of the world have it their way those days could be over.

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