The D.C Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in Verizon v. FCC that the Federal Communications Commission lacks the legal justification to impose the Open Internet rules, better known as net neutrality, on Internet Service Providers. This could be a crushing blow to net neutrality and Internet freedom.
The idea behind the Open Internet rules was to allow all websites and content the same accessibility to consumers. Now, with the fate of net neutrality uncertain, ISPs can now do a multitude of nefarious things to make accessing the Internet harder for consumers.
The crux of the problem arises out of the FCC classifying ISPs as information service providers instead of telecommunications services, like landline phone carriers. Because of this misclassification, the Appeals court ruled in favor of Verizon. With the classification of telecommunications services, the FCC uses common carrier rules in what they can and cannot do due to accessing information.
Common carrier classification stemmed from the 1990s when phone companies held monopolies over certain markets. The common carrier classification was designed to guarantee that a monopoly had no say in what content consumers accessed. The FCC failed to classify broadband Internet as a common carrier because it was thought that there would be more competition within the broadband market at the time.
This allows ISPs to charge large tech companies like Facebook, Google, Netflix, and others to have to pay a premium fee to guarantee access to the best possible and fastest data pipes to phones or home Internet services of customers. This can stifle creativity and innovation.
If a new app or website startup creates something wonderfully awesome, but cannot pay that premium fee, they will be delegated to the slow lane of Internet traffic, and likely forgotten.
It also opens up the possibility for ISPs to impose unnecessary data caps, then charge consumers, websites, and app developers to circumvent those very caps.
While the main focus of any sort of censorship on the Internet will begin with sites linked to pirating, it isn’t a far leap for ISPs to begin censoring and throttling websites with views they don’t agree with.
If the FCC cannot reclassify ISPs as telecommunications services, Internet services could begin to look like Cable packages. You pay $20 a month of 2 gigs of data, then you pay for the Social Media package for $9.99 a month and the Video Package, which includes YouTube and Netflix for $19.99.
This isn’t the end though. The FCC can appeal the ruling or reclassify ISPs, which seems like the easiest route for them to take.
When the Internet first came to be, it was a wild west of new technologies and information – the sharing of ideas across time and space. Yet, with the ruling, the Internet is threatened with corporate greed.
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