Net neutrality has been one of the original and enshrining tenets of the Internet: All content is created equal. But a US federal appeals court has struck down a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling meant to prevent ISPs from prioritizing some website traffic over others.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled today that the FCC cannot mandate net neutrality on the likes of Verizon and other broadband providers. This opens the way for multiple tiers of Internet access, with preferred content services potentially getting faster service, depending on the Internet provider.
We take a look at reaction to the news and what it could mean for businesses and users.
Rewriting the Rules
When the Internet was mostly a dial-up business, it was easy for the FCC to apply rules designed for phone companies to the web. With the arrival of broadband and mobile Internet, however, that approach was always on shaky ground. Today, long-time adversary Verizon Communications finally won a multi-year battle after a four-month appeal. The FCC said it's considering "all available options," including appeal, following the decision. So the issue is not settled yet. But it does raise significant questions.
Today's ruling states that the FCC cannot tell US wired broadband providers to follow the rules of net neutrality. The ruling does not apply to mobile broadband (which has different roles) or specifically web content, only to provisioning and priority of service. However, it may not be long before content is used as leverage by providers. To rein them in again, the FCC would require Congress to pass new laws, which would send lobbyists on both sides into pitched battles.
Many technology and web companies publicly supported net neutrality, at least initially. Google was, at first, pro-net neutrality. Then it tried to create a compromise with Verizon, Microsoft also shifted positions over the years.
The reality may be that the rise of mobile has forced all these companies to partner with mobile giants (who happen to be key broadband players) — at the expense of all other considerations.
The Affect on Business
If Verizon (and other broadband players) have their way, it puts a whole new spin on the future of the Internet. While many of us have a wide choice of mobile providers, few users have the luxury of the same range of broadband providers. And while users already have to select their broadband speeds, it is entirely possible that they may also have to select "content consumption" packages.
For businesses and content creators, there are potentially chilling questions — as yet unanswered. Do broadband providers' changes affect your data and your access to users?