Without net neutrality the Internet is a public sidewalk blocked to users by an infinite series of privately-owned toll booths.
To go anywhere on the sidewalk you will need to pay the toll masters. For anyone to visit you, they will have to pay the toll masters.
The toll masters – the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – will get even richer. Users will get poorer while also having far less access to the sidewalk.
That is the potential situation today on the Internet, at least in the United States, following the dismemberment late on January 13 of the U.S. rules for net neutrality by a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. The ruling struck key provisions of the 2010 rules adopted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission which required ISPs to treat the Internet as a conduit for the free and open exchange of information.
The rules prohibited ISPs such as Verizon, Comcast, Sprint, AT&T, Time-Warner and others from blocking websites or applications of competitors (or anyone) or charging extra (discriminating) or otherwise inhibiting that free flow of information and data. In other words, all Internet traffic in the U.S. was to be treated equally and fairly – neutrally.
All those portions of the 2010 rules were struck down Tuesday by the appellate court in a suit brought by Verizon in an effort to end net neutrality in the U.S.
“In effect, the democratized nature of the internet would be replaced by a feudal system in which the ability to reach a consumer would be auctioned off to the highest bidder,” as it was put by Mathew Ingram writing at Gigaom.
Do you like watching movies on NetFlix at true speed? No problem. Pay us more. Hey small business, would you like your website to load up at a good and decent speed? No problem. Pay us more.
The U.S. already has slower Internet speeds than most of the rest of the world because the major corporations which control the spigot control the speed. Tuesday’s ruling will, if it’s allowed to stand, give them even more control.
For their part, nearly all major service providers issued statements Wednesday saying the ruling will not hurt consumers, Internet users. And we can take them at their word because major corporations frequently pass on the opportunity to make even more money.
Want some more bad news? Should the FCC choose to appeal the lower court ruling it will head directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Can we expect this Supreme Court to understand all the issues important to a free and open Internet? The Supreme Court doesn’t even use email.
The FCC may be at fault here.
The FCC itself bears part of the blame for this ruling, however. For whatever reason, the 2010 FCC rules failed to classify ISPs as common carriers as it did previously for telephone companies (even though today’s ISPs are also – or were – telephone companies).
“The problem isn’t that the court opposed the FCC’s goals, it’s that unlike older telecommunications providers, ISPs aren’t classified as ‘common carriers’ that must pass information through their networks without preference,” wrote Adi Robertson at The Verge. “By enforcing net neutrality, the court found, the agency was imposing rules that didn’t apply to carriers.”
What can I do?
Second, you can read more about the decision and its potential effects for Internet use in the U.S.
We linked to it earlier but Gigaom has an excellent summary with plenty of sources and links.
In fact, just about any corner of the Internet – at least in the U.S. – is going to be filled with posts and published pieces. Educate yourself. This is way too important to ignore.