Net neutrality was a hot topic last year that was seemingly solve when the FCC enacted its . This effectively laid the groundwork for practical net neutrality to be implemented on internet carriers such as cable, fiber and phone providers that sell internet broadband services. Today, a federal appeals judge in DC has made a against the FCC claiming that the FCC lacked the power to do this because they don’t claim these providers as common carriers similar to telephone lines.
The purpose of net neutrality is to ensure that internet providers do not limit the access of consumers from content on the internet based on preferential treatment. Essentially, a carrier such as Comcast or Verizon could limit inbound traffic to their network from outside providers in favor of their own services. In addition to this, they could place restrictions on services such as Google, Netflix, Facebook, etc. unless those companies were to pay for preferred network access. This is extremely bad for consumers because it effectively eliminates true competition and reinforces the position of large companies and shuts out new developing internet companies.
Let me give a personal example of how this could impact a consumer. In the ruling, the judge cited that carrier competition would effective negate any network restrictions a carrier might have. The example he gave was which is a poor choice due to its limited distribution of just three cities. I live in a rural region and I only have a single choice for high speed internet connectivity, Comcast. I do not get any other services through Comcast other than internet as I use other services such as Vonage (Voice over IP or internet telephone), Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. If Comcast after this ruling decided to give priority to their Xfinity voice and video services, they would restrict those other services that I use. As there is no other option for me to use another carrier, there is no market forces to negate this restriction. My situation is not uncommon with many people in the US only having access to one or two internet broadband carriers.
In addition to the problems of network restrictions by the internet providers limiting access to internet services, it can also increase the costs to consumers. For instance, if Netflix wants to provide decent streaming over Comcast network, they may be forced to pay access fees for that traffic. This would cut into their costs and would most likely result in increased fees to the customers of that service. New emerging services may also be unable to compete with larger companies.
The issue of net neutrality is not going to go away even after this ruling. It is unlikely that any network limitations would be implemented right away. After all, the FCC does have the ability to request that the case to heard on appeal to the Supreme Court. In addition to this, there is possible legislation in Congress that could effectively change the rules such that the FCC would be given the explicit power to regulate the internet providers, in essence negating the condition which the judge ruled the FCC does not have the current power to regulate the situation.