Federal Court strikes down some FCC neutrality rules
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Last week a federal appeals court struck down several parts of the FCC 2010 net neutrality rules.
What is net neutrality?
Wikipedia defines net neutrality as "the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication."
This prevents your internet service provider from intentionally blocking or limiting (slowing down) your access to information on the internet. Its goal is to keep the internet as open as possible for everyone.
What was struck down?
Two parts, the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking policies, but they did not strike down the disclosure requirement.
This means that internet service providers (ISP's) can block or slow down any traffic to you that they see fit, but they have to tell you they are doing it.
How would this affect me?
There are many reasons that ISP's would like to block or slow traffic. Some of these reasons are valid, while others are very questionable. Let's go over a few of them.
BitTorrent is a peer to peer sharing for transferring large files. While BitTorrent offers a very valuable and needed way to share large files online, it is extensively used to transfer copyrighted materials. Allowing ISP's to block BitTorrent traffic would be a triple win for them, it would significantly decrease the amount of traffic on their network, would alleviate tension with the music and motion picture associations, and decrease the overhead that's associated with court and law enforcement request for customer account activity in relation to copyrighted materials.
Favoritism and Discrimination
What if your ISP slowed internet traffic to one site but didn't another? As an example let's say your ISP decides to slow all traffic to social media sites, then makes a deal for millions of dollars with Google to allow Google+ at full speed and be your ISP preferred social media partner. If you're favorite social media site is Facebook it unfairly forces you to use one service over another.
In this example I will use two companies with competing products where one company is an ISP and one is not. Verizon currently offers their Redbox Instant Streaming Service which competes with Netflix. Verizon also provides millions of households with either dial-up, DSL or Fiber internet service. If Verizon decided to block all internet traffic on its network (or slow it down) to Netflix it would limit your choice of online media streaming services to just one option and unfairly give Verizon the advantage.
Another example that is currently being tossed around by AT&T Wireless that has been a hotly debated issue is AT&T Wireless (as other mobile carriers) currently offers mobile users data plans that include data caps depending on the packages you choose. Once you hit those caps, you must pay overage fees for the amount of data you use. AT&T Wireless is in the process of setting up a new system that would allow companies to pay your data charges to their sites. This would allow you to visit their website or use their app and any data transfer would not count towards your data usage. This would again provide favoritism to certain companies that play by your ISP rules.
The Open Internet
The FCC defines the Open internet as follows:
"The Open Internet is the Internet as we know it, a level playing field where consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use, and where consumers are free to decide what content they want to access, create, or share with others. The FCC adopted the Open Internet rules to ensure that the Internet remains a powerful platform for innovation and job creation; to empower consumers and entrepreneurs; to protect free expression; to promote competition; to increase certainty in the marketplace by providing greater predictability for all stakeholders regarding federal policy in this area, and to spur investment both at the "edge," and in the core of our broadband networks."
With the federal courts ruling in favor of ISP, it is doubtful they will attempt to block or slow traffic to parts of the internet anytime soon in fear of customer backlash.
Most consumers would agree that it is their best interest for the internet to be as open as possible, but this is a debate that has been and will go on for some time.