The January 14 Open Internet ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has the potential of turning the Internet upside down. In the ruling, the court struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet Order (network neutrality) in favor of Verizon’s appeal of the FCC’s 2010 order in which they argued the FCC exceeded its authority to regulate how broadband Internet service providers manage network traffic.
What is net neutrality? It’s the freedom we all now have to go anywhere on information’s superhighway at no cost other than your Internet Service Provider (ISP) address, and it’s the FCC regulatory ruling that, up to now, prohibited cable and phone companies from blocking websites while providing special priority access to others.
What Could Happen Without Federal Regulation
Your ISP may not cost more. However, chances are of finding a website that you can access from your ISP without additional cost may be a problem. An Internet absent the FCC Open Internet ruling means your ISP will have an unencumbered pathway to sell packages in tiers of service much like cable providers like Comcast and Verizon bundle their programming. It could cost you to search with Google, Yahoo, or Bing. You could pay more to access weather reports, online shopping or your favorite news website.
What Will Most Likely Happen
The court did not rule against the authority of FCC to make future regulations. The court said, “Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the commission from nonetheless regulating them as such.” To satisfy the court, it seems all the FCC has to do is to regulate Internet providers as common carriers.
The court’s decision, however, means now Internet providers are free to adopt any pricing structure. They could charge, for example, “content companies like Google Inc. or Netflix higher fees to deliver Internet traffic faster. Or, they could choose to degrade the quality of certain online content unless its creators were willing to pay up.”
Self-interest is the essential nature of capitalism. That self-interest truism essentially boils down to making money. The caveat here is that corporations will always choose money (profit, shareholder’s dividends, and personal income), at the expense of you and me. Companies like Comcast and Verizon claim they support an Open Internet.
Verizon stated in response to the court’s ruling, “Verizon has been and remains committed to the Open Internet that provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content when, where, and how they want. This will not change in light of the court’s decision.”
But how is that any different from what’s offered in the everyday marketplace. The common marketplace of goods and services are full of competitive choices, unblocked access, available when, where, and how you want it, but only to the extent you’re willing and capable to pay for them.
So, don’t trust them; it all comes down to how these folks define competitive choices and unblocked access. Free to use in the mind of a capitalist may well have a different connotation than free of cost access. We need strong, meaningful, and enforceable federal regulations to control corporate interest from doing what they do best — make money to put into their coffers by gouging every last penny out of us.