Net neutrality is no more. At least for the foreseeable future. A ruling by a federal appeals court struck down the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) 2010 rules to protect the openness of the Internet by ruling in favor of Verizon Communications. (source)
Now, Verizon or any internet provider (except for Comcast*) can control, slowdown or block a website. Say they didn’t like my piece on the destructive force this will be on the Internet. They could keep all Verizon FIOS users from accessing my site. Or they could make Late Enough load so slow that people would give up.
In 2010 the FCC implemented Open Internet rules which have three main points (taken from the FCC webpage):
1. Transparency: Broadband providers must disclose information regarding their network management practices, performance, and the commercial terms of their broadband services;
2. No Blocking: Fixed broadband providers (such as DSL, cable modem or fixed wireless providers) may not block lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices. Mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services;
3. No Unreasonable Discrimination: Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. The no blocking and no unreasonable discrimination rules are subject to limited exceptions for “reasonable network management.” View the Open Internet Report and Order.
In 2011, Verizon Communication said its First Amendment rights were being violated by the Open Internet rules (corporations really are people!) as well as arguing that the FCC doesn’t have the right to implement these rules.
In 2014, the District of Columbia Appeals Court ruled 2-1 that the FCC doesn’t have the right to enforce these specific mandates (#2 and #3) but can still regulate broadband. (thank goodness!)
Now, large players on the Internet will be able to pay broadband companies for priority speed and traffic, while small players will, well, be slow and small. Broadband companies state that this priority system will keep broadband cheap because they’ll make money from charging, for example, Netflix to stream movies and TV shows and can pass on this savings to consumers. But why wouldn’t Netflix increase the price for consumers to use its product to offset these new costs? They will so the consumers still pay more and the telecommunication companies still make more money. And if consumers won’t pay? Everyone can just stream shows through Verizon. How convenient! For Verizon!
There isn’t even competition in many areas to keep companies from doing whatever they want. I can choose between Comcast and Verizon FIOS in Richmond, but not everyone even has two choices. Plus, Comcast has the worst customer service I’ve ever experienced, but now, Verizon can take away my favorite websites. That’s not really much of a choice.
And what about the small, creative work on the web? The level playing field that allows everyone a glimpse of fame, fortune, genius or just LOLfun. The Internet makes knowledge and ideas much more accessible and therefore, equal. Good ideas, bad ideas, change-the-world ideas are all at our fingertips whether we use those hands to search for them or create them. Now, consumers can be cutoff from an up-and-coming site that competes with the many interests companies like Verizon or AT&T have or just because they aren’t in the “Internet package deal.” Consumers, who are also innovators, can even be cutoff from their own work.
Net neutrality is a fundamental aspect of the Internet. Without it, the Internet becomes like a cable company where we are forced to buy eight-five channels we don’t care about for the five we do and pay extra for the five we also want except in the Internet’s case, there could be millions of channel we are missing out on. I haven’t had cable in nearly a decade because I was tired of paying too much for channels I didn’t care about and having the ones I did arbitrarily removed, and I wasn’t even a television show or channel creator. Now, the other ways I access TV and movies can be taken away as well as anything else. Any of us can be targeted. Who’s to say yours, my, or the next world-altering idea isn’t next?
*In 2007, Comcast was caught slowing down legal, basic websites, some of which competed with their own streaming sites, and the FCC censured them. The FCC lost the case in appeals in 2010. However, when Comcast merged with NBCUniversal that same year, it agreed to follow the Open Internet rules for 7 years even if the courts modified them because of Congress’ fear of it being a monopoly so it will not be affected by 2014 ruling for another few years. (source)