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Net Neutrality Dealt Heavy Blow In Latest Court Decision

On Tuesday, a federal court dealt a swift and deadly blow against net neutrality, by striking down the FCC’s open Internet rules and essentially inviting broadband providers to offer preferential treatment to companies willing to pay for it. Essentially, without a system of net neutrality, any website can pay top-dollar to broadband providers to improve the speed and the refresh time on their webpages, creating a competitive market to receive better website treatment by providers such as Verizon or Time Warner. Though this has been a decisive blow against net neutrality, is it really dead? And what are the implications if it is dead?

The future of net neutrality is foggy, at best; muddled by politics and encumbered by its own troubled history. This week’s ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals in DC comes down to technicality because of how the FCC has designated broadband providers. Basically, if the FCC defined broadband service as being a “common carrier” like telephone service, then it would have the authority to institute rule governing its free market activity. Instead, however, the FCC designated broadband as being an “information service,” a category the FCC has no jurisdiction over. Changing that designation, however, is no simple task as that designation change opens up an entirely new can of worms regarding fundamental implications of how the internet should be regulated.

That’s where the next step lies, and it’s a fight worth fighting. Letting this latest ruling stand would change the most fundamental ways businesses function on the web, shifting companies’ attention away from innovation and back towards back room dealings. Despite the future with net neutrality being complex, the future without it is downright scary.

An Internet Without Net Neutrality

In case you don’t know, net neutrality actually is a big deal. To give further context, net neutrality is essentially the basic principle that all data on the internet is equal and should be treated equally, without playing favorites. That means, no preferential treatment to specific types of content, certain users, individual companies, or modes of communication. A simple analogy would be to compare internet traffic to highway traffic, where cars are internet traffic and roads are networks. Left alone, cars can travel down any lane they choose without interference so long as the lane is open. But, what if the network builds HOV lanes? Or high speed lanes where only certain vehicles would be allowed to travel? Or installed toll booths along the road that already exists, just so that other vehicles had to pay to use the road? What if some vehicles were kicked off the highway entirely?

It’s hard to predict the future, however, the consequences of a non-neutral web have already started penetrating reality. Comcast has already been trying to ensure that its streaming service doesn’t have to play by its own bandwidth cap rules. Now, imagine it started throttling Netflix or HBO Go bandwidth too, or charging extra for that. Extrapolate that out to every broadband service provider: Time Warner, RCA, Verizon, etc. and it would be a real mess.

This is what the world without net neutrality would look like. Tuesday’s decision invites big telecom companies, like Verizon and Time Warner, who originally brought the case against the FCC, to charge companies for faster speeds that get passed on to the end-user. This effectively gives an advantage to big internet companies who are quite willing to make agreements with broadband providers and presents small internet companies with a disadvantage of operating on slower, more restricted network. Inevitably, smaller companies that have more innovative web interfaces with better services, won’t be rewarded for their innovation, but instead, larger, more lucrative companies that are better at making deals will reap the benefits. The more money you have, the more power you have in a non net-neutral world.

Essentially, getting rid of net neutrality creates several consequences against the consumer. It stifles innovation, would force smaller companies to be more open to passing on costs to the consumer, making them less attractive of an alternative to established companies’ services, and no matter what, costs increase for the consumer. Maybe you sign up for basic internet service, and then have to pay extra fees to access your favorite websites. That would be unfair and a basic violation of the tenants of the internet.