Net Neutrality, in a nutshell, is the idea that access to content on the internet should not be limited by the internet service providers. For example, access (and speed of access) to Netflix, or Hulu, or YouTube shall not be impeded by ISPs even if those services compete with services that the ISPs offer themselves; this is the case frequently as most common ISPs are cable companies who have their own TV and video services.
Today, a Federal appeals court, in the case of Verizon v. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has overruled several key aspects of the FCC’s Open Internet policy which contains regulations such as not prioritizing the connection speed of certain websites.
There is one somewhat important idea that the court did not overturn, however, and that is that if an ISP were to throttle/prioritize traffic to certain websites or services, they have to tell the customers what they are doing. This was an idea that Verizon opposed (it’s not difficult to classify that as extremely anti-consumer behavior).
Striking down net neutrality has the potential of hurting consumers.
In the age of bandwidth caps, some people might think they are coming out ahead if, say, Verizon or AT&T says they will not count data used for certain services. This may sound good at first, but what is happening behind the scenes is that companies may be asked to pay extra to the ISPs in order to deliver their content at full speeds, or at all, to customers. This is incredibly hurtful to smaller companies, and could lead to increased prices from the larger ones.
It’s all speculation about what could happen if net neutrality disappears completely, but a little thought about how communication companies have been operating leads to the conclusion that it will mean more money for them, and less freedom for the consumer.
Tom Wheeler, FCC chair, seems to think the fight is not over; he says:
I am committed to maintaining our networks as engines for economic growth, test beds for innovative services and products, and channels for all forms of speech protected by the First Amendment. We will consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans.
While it’s comforting that Wheeler still thinks he can do what’s best for the consumers, today’s news is a very large blow to Net Neutrality and the Open Internet idea as a whole.