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Can Net Neutrality be Saved?

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

21 February 2014

As you might recall if you read our blog post on the potential death of Net Neutrality a few weeks ago, in January a US federal court dismissed the FCC’s Open Internet rules as “unconstitutional”, with the argument that the FCC did not have the requisite authority to impose their own rules on the internet. This decision, and the subsequent questions that arose from it, threatened to change the web as we knew it.

This week, the FCC has proposed a new set of rules, or rather guidelines, to discourage companies from misusing the Internet. But can Net Neutrality be saved in the wake of the federal court’s decision, or is it already too late?

What is Net Neutrality?

The FCC’s Open Internet rules were originally formulated with the goal of keeping the web fair for all users. The rules meant that no one, no matter how much influence or money they had, could block or promote lawful content or charge different rates for different users. Net Neutrality was the state that arose from the application of these rules, and it effectively ensured that it was as easy to see your sister’s travel blog from 2007 as it was to see Disney Pixar’s latest trailer.

However, without Net Neutrality, the internet could look like a very different place. The taking down of the Open Internet rules meant that service providers could essentially create a two-tier web; one premium service for companies that paid the highest rate, giving quick access and priority to their content, and one service for other companies and content creators, leaving their pages and information to load slower and be less accessible to the user.

So what does the FCC’s new proposal mean?

Well, it’s too soon to tell. At first glance, it seems that any rules put forward by the FCC should now be rejected under the same argument; that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to impose any rules at all.

However, in their more technical new rules, the FCC evoke Section 706 of the Communications Act, effectively taking their authority from another law that already exists and bypassing the issue above.

Of course, it is still too soon to tell whether these rules will pass, but if they do, they may even expand on the previous Open Internet rules, in essence resuscitating Net Neutrality before it passes away entirely.

For those who want to keep using a free and open web, this is good news. For those who consider any internet regulation a danger precedent and a hurdle for business, it’s bad news. But even the most cynical of liberals will be glad to see that the FCC isn’t giving up on its mission to keep Net Neutrality alive and well.

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