Commentary: Say goodbye to the Internet we've known

Jan 17, 2014 by Troy Wolverton

If you like how cable television works, you're going to love how a court decision this week could change the Internet.

Thanks to the ruling, can now exert a lot more control over what sites you visit on the Internet and what services you can access. The decision would allow Comcast, for example, to bar its Internet subscribers from seeing videos from Netflix or from using Vonage's Internet phone service.

Made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the decision Tuesday overturned rules put in place by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010 that barred wired Internet providers from blocking access to particular sites or services, and generally required them to treat all Internet traffic equally.

While the court's ruling will worry and anger advocates of an open Internet, it's federal regulators, not the judges, who are to blame. Their subservience to the big telecommunications companies and timidity in writing the rules governing Internet traffic led directly to the court's decision.

One thing that has made the Internet distinct from pay television services is the role of the service provider. With pay TV, the cable or satellite company determines what channels you can watch, which often depends on what kind of financial deals the providers can strike with the channel operators. As subscribers have seen, disputes over who should pay what can lead to channels or programs going off the air.

Since its founding, the Internet has operated differently, at least in this country. The understanding - underwritten by certain legal precedents - was that end users should be able to connect to any site or service attached to the network, not just those that their approves. There's also long been a generally understood principle that all Internet providers should treat the bits that pass through their networks more or less the same; that you should be able to access video from Netflix as easily as video from Comcast - or even video on your Aunt Edna's website.

But in recent years, this principle, dubbed Net neutrality, has been challenged by the service providers. Most notoriously, Comcast inhibited some of its customers from using file-sharing applications by deliberately slowing access to those services.

In response to those challenges, the FCC, which regulates telecommunications services in this country, put in place its Open Internet rules, which sought to explicitly codify the principles of Net neutrality.

But the FCC made what turns out to have been a big mistake. As the appeals court noted in its ruling, the Open Internet rules essentially require the broadband providers to act as "common carriers," a class of highly regulated companies that are required to treat all customers the same. Unfortunately, the FCC determined long ago that the providers weren't common carriers.

Under the Bush administration, the FCC was determined to deregulate the telecommunications industry. As part of that effort, it reversed its previous stance and removed Internet providers from common carrier regulations. But even as it deregulated the industry, the FCC sought to maintain the notion of Net neutrality. Unfortunately, by determining that the broadband providers weren't common carriers, it basically took away from itself the legal authority to enforce that notion. That's what the court ruled Tuesday: that the FCC can't impose common carrier rules on companies that aren't common carriers.

There are, of course, answers to this problem. One is that the U.S. Supreme Court could overrule the appeals court if the FCC appeals the ruling. The other is that the FCC could reclassify the broadband providers and give itself back the authority to regulate them.

But you can bet it will face a lot of resistance to doing so. Back when the agency was debating the Open Internet rules, consumer groups urged the FCC to ground those rules in the finding that the broadband providers are in fact common carriers. But that proposal met considerable resistance from the big telecommunications companies and from those companies' champions in Congress. The final rules were an attempt by the agency to appease both sides.

The agency may find the gumption this time to tick off the telecommunications giants by re-regulating them. But I wouldn't bet on it. I think it's much more likely that the agency, which is now headed by a former industry lobbyist, will capitulate.

So enjoy accessing your Internet videos from Netflix and Aunt Edna. They may not be so easy to watch in the future - if you can watch them at all.

Explore further: US court strikes down 'Net Neutrality' rule (Update)

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User comments : 11

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Returners
2 / 5 (4) Jan 17, 2014
It really would be a good strategy for "brick and mortar" retailers to buy out ISP services anywhere they can, so they can block competitors' online ads and websites across those ISP services' networks.

Capitalistic statement for press release:

"We've 'partnered' with your local communications network to bring you the best products available at the lowest prices. We're rolling back our sleeves, and our prices for you."
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Jan 17, 2014
Aha, Rtrnrs.
I believe I now see your nefarious plan... And the reason for the cryptic codes made in your posts.
OZGuy
5 / 5 (2) Jan 17, 2014
So they want you to suscribe to an Intranet they control rather than an open Internet. Gee bet that's going to be popular especially with the likes of Anonymous.
progentCT
3 / 5 (2) Jan 18, 2014
The cat is out of the bag. 12 to 25 year old kids who have mountain dew and nights to burn will always find new ways to ways to circumvent roadblocks until its economically impossible to keep them up.

Look at how the music industry adapted and where they are now.
jaymondo
5 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2014
Dear Presidents past and future, congress members, Justices, agency directors and those bigwig decision makers of companies big and small... Even though you all have shit on this country and your fellow Americans for entirely to long, you have, more importantly, provoked generations to think for themselves and question authority. I have hope that my children may still be able to chase that American dream, but in the mean time we are screwed.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2014
In the world of cable TV, subscribers are more like products than customers. A lot of advertising dollars flow into the system, and there's a strong attraction to being able to provide advertisers with a captive audience. Thus, there's little freedom for the subscriber. No a la carte, for instance. The Internet will be a little more difficult to reign in, but I imagine some providers will try.

As a lesson in history, though, remember AOL? Who back in the '90s tried to make customers believe they were the on-line world, but oh-yeah, there was this little thing called the Internet tacked on to them.
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 18, 2014
Thanks to the ruling, broadband providers can now exert a lot more control over what sites you visit on the Internet and what services you can access.


Is it bettter when a govt can control what sites you visit and what services you can access?
China controls what sites their 'citizens' can access.
Returners
1 / 5 (4) Jan 18, 2014
Is it bettter when a govt can control what sites you visit and what services you can access?
China controls what sites their 'citizens' can access.


I get to vote for representatives, governors, and presidents.

I don't get to vote for who runs a corporation.

I trust the government more with meta-data than some corporation, for example.

I consider Edward Snowden to be a traitor, because he gave our intelligence to other nations who we had a common sense reason to be spying and gathering info on. He stirred up a shit storm with Germany and Russia, which we were just starting to get somewhat decent relationships with Russia other than "Oh my God we're going to kill one another one day," Cold War crap. His betrayal and defection shit on all that and made everyone pissed off at one another, and Obama and our government again does the spineless, apologize to the world thing. What happened to the honest response? We're protecting our self against the possibility of another Hitler.
Returners
1 / 5 (3) Jan 18, 2014
People are paranoid that government surveillance in the U.S. would turn into fascism or Nazi-ism, but it won't and can't.

You can't even so much as say a negative word about a race, religion, or lifestyle in the U.S. without being fired from your job or kicked out of office, which is itself technically against the First Amendment, but the point is there is no chance of something like Nazi genocide happening in the modern U.S.

That happened in the 1700's and 1800's when our evil ancestors did that to the native Americans, but that was a different America, and a different people, which I don't approve of them any more than the Nazis.

This power grab by corporations who's networks are run on public land, that is concerning to me. In spite of your denials, rygg, we know that corporations who become too powerful always abuse that power eventually, even if the original founder is benevolent, someone else comes along and screws it up when he/she dies.

You and I don't get a vote on that.
Newbeak
not rated yet Jan 18, 2014
Well,we may have to rebuild the internet from scratch: http://www.newsci...tch.html
Oh,by the way,TPP is waiting in the wings to really ruin your day: http://stopthetrap.net/
Code_Warrior
5 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2014
What will happen is that "open access" will become an "upgrade" to basic internet service and be sold at a premium so that a service provider such as Comcast will be able to develop a revenue stream of their own for services like Netflix. Of course they will be sure to offer multiple levels of upgrades so that they can tack their own revenue streams onto as many competitors products as possible.

Of course, a whole new form of competition between ISPs will result, each trying to undercut the other with upgraded service package pricing and/or "features". Then the governments will step in and create new classifications and regulations to make the system "fair", taxable, and accessible for snooping purposes.

It won't matter who you vote for. Your internet connection will be controlled for the benefit of the powerful at the expense of the people. Hell, it already is. Time to go rogue....