Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Don't Take Away My Netflix!

  I am reminded today of that old R.E.M. song: "It's the end of the world (wide web) as we know it..." Hopefully that tune doesn't become the theme of a very different internet experience soon.

  Feel like being forced to upgrade your internet service to a more expensive option just so you can continue watching Netflix or Hulu? Me neither. FCC regulations regarding "net neutrality" are what have protected us from that type of corporate exploitation for several years now... until today.

CNN Money reports:
A federal appeals court has struck down Federal Communications Commission rules that prohibit Internet service providers (ISPs) from restricting access to legal Web content.

The ruling is the latest development in the long-running battle over net neutrality -- the principle that all sites on the Internet be equally accessible. Net neutrality advocates want to preserve the Web's status quo, in which providers such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable can't auction off priority traffic rights to one site over another, or impose tolls for high-bandwidth sites such as video streamers Netflix and Hulu.

 The FCC adopted the regulations at issue in 2010, imposing so-called "Open Internet" rules that barred ISPs from blocking or "unreasonably discriminating" against Web content.

Those regulations were challenged in 2011 by Verizon, which claimed the move overstepped the commission's legal authority.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Verizon's favor Tuesday. The court said that because the FCC had previously placed broadband Internet service in a separate regulatory category from phone service, it lacked the legal justification to impose the Open Internet rules.

  So it turns out that according to the opinion issued by U.S. federal court today-- by giving internet service it's own classification and distinguishing it from standard utilities like telephone service, the FCC also created a distinction between internet law and existing pro-consumer regulations governing the telecom industry.

  Assuming that the FCC originally made that move with the intent of protecting open internet access, they appear to have inadvertently obligated themselves to a long and arduous legal process of establishing jurisdiction over this new class of services. That lack of legal precedent appears to be what left the door open for today's court ruling against net neutrality.

  If this ruling is allowed to stand as-is without any additional action to protect consumer interests, a segregated internet experience with a tiered premium pricing structure (similar to cable TV service) is where the web is headed. This could be really bad news for consumers.

  Under this new version of the world wide web, cell carriers like AT&T could arbitrarily block you from visiting Sprint or T-mobile's website on your smart phone or tablet. If your local ISP decides that YouTube viewing eats up too much of their bandwidth, they could simply serve up a proprietary "no YouTube" version of the internet. If you use Microsoft as your ISP, they will now be able to block all things Google or Yahoo, and force you to use Bing as your search engine and Outlook as your email provider.

  There is still potential for a pro-consumer solution though. CNN Money further writes:
The ruling did affirm the FCC's authority in principle to regulate broadband Internet service, leaving open the possibility for the commission to rewrite its rules within a new legal framework.

FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler said in a statement Tuesday that the commission "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."

   So if the FCC reclassifies broadband internet as a "Title II" utility like land-line telephone service, they might then be able to leverage the existing legal framework of that classification, perhaps allowing them to enforce existing anti-discrimination regulations. Hopefully, for the sake of consumers everywhere the FCC will rise to the task of protecting freedom of information, products, and services; and do so in a timely manner.

  To learn more about how you can support "net neutrality" and stand up for freedom of information, visit Save The Internet and Demand Progress to sign their petitions urging the FCC to take action!


  1. I don't think there's any government official that doesn't believe that net neutrality is the fundamentally correct policy. I suspect this decision hinges more on the court wanting to ensure that the correct precedents are set i regard to future regulation.

    This should be seen as the FCC's opportunity to get appropriate legislation in place. I doubt that any right-thinking congressman would support allowing for-profit entities to regulate content access.

  2. Yeah, I would certainly hope so as well. Thanks for the comment! :)

    A possibility that has a lot of people worried at this point is that this would not be the first time that the US government has given preferential treatment to a big corporation rather than doing what is actually good for the rest of us. We can see examples of that type of corruption in every area of society, but we re-brand it as "lobbying" and allow it to continue.

    The potential for concern is definitely there. I am hopeful though, that public outcry will prompt the FCC to come through.