Last week, a federal court in the US dismissed the FCC’s Open Internet rules, which acted as a means to level the playing field online and ensure Net Neutrality.
These rules meant that no one, not ISPs, the government, not even super rich companies, could promote or block lawful content, charge differently by user, data or site, or promote one type of content over another. They meant that you could access content from your roommate’s sister’s cousin’s dog’s blog just as quickly as you could access the latest viral video from Coke. In the most basic terms, the open Internet rules ensured that all data on the web was treated fairly and equally.
After US mega-company Verizon brought a case against these rules, and effectively against the Net Neutrality that arises from them, a judge ruled that the rules were unconstitutional, and that the FCC did not have the necessary authority to impose such rules on the Internet. This begs the question of who does have the authority, but more pressing is the situation we now face if Net Neutrality is dead.
A web without neutrality opens up the possibility of the Internet giants like Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner to charge companies more and more money to ensure faster speeds, leaving smaller business to languish on the slower networks, regardless of whether they had the best or most innovative website. In essence, it means that the Internet is open to the highest bidder; those with the most money will ensure that their content is seen, while all others cannot.
But how does this affect me?
Right now, it’s difficult to see whether Net Neutrality will be saved by a new piece of legislation, whether the worst will actually happen, or whether we’ll find ourselves somewhere in between, which seems to be the most likely option. It does seem possible that restrictions of access will move from being region-specific (for instance, when you can’t watch a YouTube video because it isn’t allowed where you are) to provider-specific (where it’s difficult to access certain content because the provider hasn’t paid enough to quality for the faster network.
Worst case scenario: Your Internet is run the same way as your cable. Free and unfettered exchange of ideas, content and media is replaced by a pay-per-service system, meaning that a whole lot of good stuff will be taken out of your Internet experience and replaced by corporate-sponsored content created by those who have the most money.
Best case scenario: Someone is given the authority to maintain Net Neutrality, and things more or less stay the same.
Although it’s easy to take the negative path and assume that the Internet as we know it is all but over, the FCC might find a (somewhat unlikely) advocate in President Obama. Back when he was campaigning for his first term, Net Neutrality was one of Obama’s key issues, and given all the controversy surround the NSA of late, the President might just see the Open Internet as a positive way to turn public opinion back on his side.
In the mean time, I guess we can only cross our fingers.