This past week marked an important landmark in Internet legislation as The D.C. Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s ruling that prohibited Internet providers, like Verizon and AT&T, from blocking any legal information or access on their network.
This notion is based on the concept of open Internet rules, which demand that providers remain transparent with their users, prohibit them from blocking legal content, and prohibits them from discrimination among Internet traffic. This week however, the court ruled that although the FCC does have the power to regulate the Internet, the power does not require broadband providers such as Verizon and AT&T to adhere to these rules. This ruling stems from the court differentiating these broadband providers as fundamentally different than telecommunication services (which are required to remain open to the public).
In the case of telecommunications networks, they are classified as “common carriers” that require open access, but with this ruling, the court deemed that broadband is an information service which separates them from adhering to open access rules. Although this sounds like it will only affect broadband providers, the Internet user will see the effects of this ruling as well. This ruling allows Internet providers the ability to start charging for access to their networks. This means companies like Netflix could be required to pay Verizon or AT&T to access their consumers.
In addition, this opens the doorway for networks to charge consumers more for access to these services. For example, a consumer could see differing types of Internet subscription with those with access to a greater amount of services costing more. Furthermore, the possibility of disputes between broadband providers and companies like Netflix over the new charges these companies are forced to pay to access the broadband network could result in blackouts of that service for consumers using a broadband network that is feuding with a company that doesn’t want to pay.
In this corporate battle it will be the consumer that loses, as they will not be able to access that content under the new ruling that “closes” the Internet. The advocates for a closed internet argue though that by forcing companies to pay for access to their networks, consumers will not have to pay for the access to these services, and broadband providers will have more revenue to invest in their networks thus benefiting the consumer in the long run. The effects of this decision are yet to be seen, as the FCC may file an appeal, but one thing is certain.
The Internet user will see the effects of this ruling whether positive or negative, sometime in the near future.