Federal court rules against FCC enforcement of net neutrality

8 04 2010

To think this all started with a group of people downloading some large files off of BitTorrent. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously shot down a cessation order sent by the FCC to Comcast for showing preference for customer access to the Internet all the way back in 2008.

It’s important to keep in mind that the court did not rule that the idea of net neutrality is not what was deemed illegal, rather, the enforcement of it on the part of the FCC is what the ruling pertained to. The FCC itself, through spokeswoman Jen Howard, has acknowledged this, saying that its implementation of net neutrality will have to change, not its devotion to the ideal.

What’s done is done, and though the FCC may appeal the decision, the ground upon which they stand on the matter has been shaken up. Though the fallout will take time to settle, there are several immediate implications from the court ruling.

  • Preferential treatment based upon individual Internet providers looks to be more probable, with the possibility that Internet providers can eventually hold bandwidth hostage, in a way, demanding fees from either independent companies or users for faster access. Customers may, for example, find that their access is bundled into packages similar to those currently used for cable. If an individual wants high-speed access to ESPN and MLBTV, for example, they’ll have to pay an additional $5 per month, with the benefit being easier streaming, greater allowance for downloads from those services, etc.Or, and this could work in conjunction with the customer packaging plan, firms like Comcast could put their foot down and demand that Google or CNN pay them in order for their sites to have greater speeds.
  • The FCC will need to find a way around the court ruling if it wants to remain relevant in managing information technologies. With television and traditional phones becoming increasingly more marginalized by Internet technologies, the ruling places a major damper on the commission’s future purview. One idea currently gathering steam is for the Internet to be legally placed under the telephones, which would subsequently recoup the FCC’s lost powers.
  • Sites that are built upon torrents and similar services (Rapidshare, Mediafire, etc) may be increasingly marginalized by limitations on their bandwidth. Internet providers like Comcast now have legal precedent behind them if they choose to restrict access to said sites in the future, whether it be for reasons tied to network management, piracy concerns or any number of other premises.
  • In time, all of this could be rendered irrelevant if Google’s experimental fiber network, with incredibly higher speeds than the current competition and a company doctrine that supports net neutrality, succeeds and eventually sets the standard for the marketplace. If Google can capitalize on the continued stagnation of the services provided by the likes of Comcast, and if said companies move to restrict consumer access to the Internet, then not only would a sizable chunk of material on the Internet be accessed through Google, but the entire web itself could go through them. Which, of course, comes with its own set of implications.

For more information on speakers, topics and details of the FutureWeb conference, visit the FutureWeb site. To register for the conference, click here.

By Morgan Little

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