Federal Court Ruling: Is this Beginning of the End for Net Neutrality?

We-the-persons750-sig-sm72-b-wby Pamela Powers Hannley

If you don’t like the way Facebook shovels advertising and promoted posts into your “news feed”, instead of the latest photos of your friends’ vacations, you’re really not going to like the new and improved Internet.

Yesterday, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doesn’t have the power to regulate net neutrality. What does this mean for you? Internet providers like Verizon can now cut deals with corporate giants to accelerate their content, while leaving non-commercial Internet content–like those pesky independent blogs– in the dustbin of a Google search.

From Think Progress

Net neutrality rules were issued by the FCC to prevent broadband providers from favoring some content over other content, potentially even their own. As the two-judge majority explains, “a broadband provider like Comcast might limit its end-user subscribers’ ability to access the New York Times website if it wanted to spike traffic to its own news website, or it might degrade the quality of the connection to a search website like Bing if a competitor like Google paid for prioritized access.”

Even as they struck down these rules Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit judges concede that this concern is real, writing, “broadband providers represent a threat to Internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment.” The problem, however, derives from an earlier FCC decision that even advocates of net neutrality like Free Press president Craig Aaron say was a failure of FCC leadership to “ground its Open Internet rules on solid legal footing.” [Emphasis added.]

This is scary shit. A free and open Internet has been an incubator for person-to-person communication and community organizing through social media and blogging. Up until yesterday, anyone with access to the Internet and time on their hands could create a blog, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page and start publishing content out to the world. Anyone with basic writing skills and good search engine optimization (SEO) could be heard.

As corporate filters have been applied to news distribution and traditional television news has shifted to entertainment, citizens have turned to blogs for real news and non-commercial commentary.

The FCC can appeal this ruling, and the Court left the door open for future regulations, but in the meantime, you expect to be fed more advertising and more corporate content. From the New York Times

Federal regulators had tried to prevent those deals, saying they would give large, rich companies an unfair edge in reaching consumers. But since the Internet is not considered a utility under federal law, the court said, it is not subject to regulations banning the arrangements.

Some deals could come soon. In challenging the 2010 regulations at issue in the case, Verizon told the court that if not for the rules by the Federal Communications Commission, “we would be exploring those commercial arrangements.”

Internet users will probably not see an immediate difference with their service. Consumer advocates, though, warned that higher costs to content providers could be passed on to the public, and called the ruling a serious blow against the concept of a free and open Internet. “It leaves consumers at the mercy of a handful of cable and phone providers that can give preferential treatment to the content they profit from,” said Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union.

Verizon and other corporate giants have spent millions lobbying against and fighting court battles to stop net neutrality. If we want to keep it, we have to continue to fight for it.

One response to “Federal Court Ruling: Is this Beginning of the End for Net Neutrality?

  1. This is an ominous development. Blogs like this could be slowed to a crawl — unless they’re willing to pay a speed-up fee — meaning people’s ability to access this kind of information quickly would be hampered. It sounds like any provider that doesn’t like the cut of some website’s jib could slow it down or make it inaccessible. Let’s hope an appeal can stop this. Very little hope Congress would pass effective net neutrality regulation.