Net neutrality is no more, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead.
In January, a Washington appeals court struck down the first attempt at imposing net neutrality, saying that because Internet service providers aren’t classified as “common carriers,” the FCC couldn’t force ISPs to treat all web traffic equally. The Internet may be pipes, but they don’t have to be dumb pipes, essentially.
Today, the FCC issued its response.
First off, it won’t be appealing the court’s decision. Instead, it will lean on part of the ruling that reaffirmed the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband access to craft a new version of net neutrality that will (the FCC hopes) be harder to nix. The agency plans to complete the revised rules by early summer. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is also leaving open the option of reclassifying broadband as a public utility, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Why net neutrality matters
So why is net neutrality such a big deal? The White House laid the issue out clearly in a blog post responding to a We The People petition this morning:
“Absent net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries. The resulting decline in the development of advanced online apps and services would dampen demand for broadband and ultimately discourage investment in broadband infrastructure. An open Internet removes barriers to investment worldwide.”
That is no idle threat, either. In the appeals court’s ruling against net neutrality, it drove home the fact that ISPs are already prioritizing certain Internet traffic in very anti-consumer ways:
“In support of its conclusion that broadband providers could and would act to limit Internet openness, the Commission pointed to four prior instances in which they had done just that. These involved a mobile broadband provider blocking online payment services after entering into a contract with a competing service; a mobile broadband provider restricting the availability of competing VoIP and streaming video services; a fixed broadband provider blocking VoIP applications; and, of course, Comcast’s impairment of peer-to-peer file sharing that was the subject of the Comcast Order.”
That’s bad—and in the weeks since the ruling, Netflix users have witnessed a precipitous drop in streaming speeds. While that’s likely caused by Internet backbone issues rather than active blocking, it hints at The Future That Could Be if net neutrality fails to stick. Here’s hoping the FCC’s impending solution proves more legal next time around.