A federal appeals court has struck down the FCC’s “net neutrality” rules, siding with Verizon in a case that could allow internet service providers to charge — or restrict — internet access based on customers’ or companies’ usage.
For years, the FCC has required that broadband web service providers treat all traffic equally, and not restrict or promote certain web sites or services or discriminate in favour of sites they own over competing companies.
That appears to have come to an end today based on a technicality, according to a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The judges appeared to be sympathetic to the FCC’s attempt to write rules requiring equal treatment of web traffic, but decided that the agency doesn’t have the statutory authority to control how companies set their internet policies and prices.
The ruling now allows internet service providers such as Verizon to start charging different tier prices for different types of users, or to throttle traffic speeds for certain users or sites. Internet companies have long complained that some services — such as peer-to-peer file sharing operations — suck up huge amounts of their resources while paying disproportionately low fees.
The Verge described the ruling’s impact this way: “In other words, carriers can make some traffic run faster or block other services, but they have to tell subscribers.”
The court’s ruling is a game-changer because it upsets the FCC’s current practice of requiring broadband internet providers to act akin to “common carriers.” In plain English, this means that they have had to behave like phone companies and not give special preference to one type of call (or traffic) over another,
But net neutrality proponents believe that is a small price to pay if it means sustaining innovation by giving new companies, and new uses of the internet, open, “neutral” access to the resource they all need: Bandwidth.
The ruling is a blow to the concept of net neutrality, which was part of President Barack Obama’s campaign platform in 2008. The ruling opens the door for Verizon and other Internet service providers to offer managed services or other arrangements where content providers could pay to increase the speed to their content. Verizon has indicated it would pursue such an arrangement if it was permitted to do so.
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