Circuit Court of Appeals decision on Net Neutrality will have far-reaching consequences

01/14/2014 - 00:00

In a decision that could have far-reaching consequences, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today struck down the FCC’s Open Internet Order. That Order, put into force in 2010 by then-chairman Julius Genachowski, was designed to make it so that broadband service providers couldn’t meddle with specific kinds of internet traffic – in other words, they couldn’t block certain kinds of online data transmission just because it didn’t align with their own goals and financial strategy.

Media watchdog and advocacy agency Free Press released the following statement about the decision via President and CEO Craig Aaron, condemning it while also acknowledging that the Open Internet Order probably wasn’t the best possible solution for enforcing net neutrality:

We’re disappointed that the court came to this conclusion. Its ruling means that Internet users will be pitted against the biggest phone and cable companies — and in the absence of any oversight, these companies can now block and discriminate against their customers’ communications at will.

The compromised Open Internet Order struck down today left much to be desired, but it was a step toward maintaining Internet users’ freedom to go where they wanted, when they wanted, and communicate freely online. Now, just as Verizon promised it would in court, the biggest broadband providers will race to turn the open and vibrant Web into something that looks like cable TV. They’ll establish fast lanes for the few giant companies that can afford to pay exorbitant tolls and reserve the slow lanes for everyone else.

The FCC — under the leadership of former Chairman Julius Genachowski — made a grave mistake when it failed to ground its open Internet rules on solid legal footing. Internet users will pay dearly for the previous chairman’s lack of political will. That’s why we need to fix the problems the agency could have avoided in the first place.

New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently stated that the FCC must have the ability to protect broadband users and preserve the Internet’s fundamental open architecture. In order to do that, he must act quickly to restore reassert the FCC’s clear authority over our nation’s communications infrastructure. The agency must follow its statutory mandate to make broadband communications networks open, accessible, reliable and affordable for everyone.

We look forward to working with Chairman Wheeler and the rest of the Commission to protect and preserve real Net Neutrality.

Basically, the key takeaway for the above is that while the Open Internet Order was far from perfect, it was pretty much the only tattered barrier standing in the way of providers like Verizon decided what can and can’t be transmitted across its broadband data network, and now Free Press foresees providers moving to a model more like that they favor with cable TV, where content types are parcelled out and monetized piecemeal.

Asked what’s next in terms of ensuring net neutrality doesn’t erode away forever, Free Press provided the following to TechCrunch:

First and foremost the FCC must reassert and restore its authority over broadband. Then, we need to make Net Neutrality rules that aren’t riddled with loopholes. With the authority resolved, new rules would be enforceable.