The “open internet” as we know it – also know as Net Neutrality – was dealt a serious blow this morning when an appeals court ruled that the FCC does not have the power to bar internet service providers from favoring one type of traffic over another. In other words, if Verizon (we’ll pick on them since they are leading this charge and won today’s ruling) decides one day that it wants to limit or slow your access to Droid Life in favor of another Android site that paid premiums, it could. Or maybe Big Red struck another deal with Bing, so it decided to limit your access to Google Search. Or maybe they don’t want you on YouTube as much as you currently are – maybe they have a new Verizon video service that streams at a faster rate and with higher quality that they will shove in your face. See where we are going here?
The FCC has argued for some time that we shouldn’t allow companies like Comcast, AT&T or Verizon to treat packets that flow across their network any differently from one to another. These big networks, since they paid billions to build them, think they should have all the power in the world when deciding how their traffic flows. According to today’s judgement, things aren’t looking so hot for the FCC.
In a statement released shortly after the ruling, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler had this to say:
The D.C. Circuit has correctly held that ‘Section 706 . . . vests [the Commission] with affirmative authority to enact measures encouraging the deployment of broadband infrastructure’ and therefore may ‘promulgate rules governing broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic.’ I am committed to maintaining our networks as engines for economic growth, test beds for innovative services and products, and channels for all forms of speech protected by the First Amendment. We will consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans.
Verizon followed up with their own statement, one which vowed to commit to an “open internet”:
One thing is for sure: today’s decision will not change consumers’ ability to access and use the Internet as they do now. The court’s decision will allow more room for innovation, and consumers will have more choices to determine for themselves how they access and experience the Internet. Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet that provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content when, where, and how they want. This will not change in light of the court’s decision.
Should we believe them? I’ll let you decide. All I know is that these companies operate off of dollar signs, and with an internet that can be bought or controlled by the companies that own the networks, anything is possible.