A federal appeals court decision Tuesday could lead to major changes in the Internet that you know, love and use all the time. On the other hand, the decision may be a speed bump until the government writes new rules covering Internet traffic.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down a government order requiring Internet Service Providers not to favor the Web traffic of a business customer over the Web traffic of an unrelated website when a consumer seeks to access such content.
The court “struck down a Federal Communications Commission order from 2010 that forced Internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable to abide by the principles of network neutrality,” The Huffington Post reported. The principles of network neutrality restrain ISPs from engaging “in practices that block, stifle or discriminate against (lawful) websites or traffic types on the Internet,” according to HuffPost.
The Huffington Post reported five reasons why this move will have an impact on Internet users. For one, ISPs can “discriminate against content they dislike,” wrote Betsy Isaacson for HuffPost. This means that if an ISP doesn’t like free online porn, for example, it can delay or block the websites. This is like what the United Kingdom has recently done, as ISPs are starting up their own filtering system to weave out adult content for users, according to a report by the BBC.
ISPs can force users to pay for quicker content delivery, too, HuffPost reported.
“With net neutrality gone, ISPs can now start charging hefty fees to websites that want quick content delivery — shifting the long load times to poorer sites that can't pay up,” wrote Isaacson.
Small businesses and Internet streaming sites like Netflix might also be at risk after this decision, HuffPost said. Newser reported that in some cases, users might not be able to find certain websites anymore if the ISPs decide to regulate the available websites a certain way.
BuzzFeed reported that this decision by the courts could impact cellphone data usage, too. If a provider wants to have the data sponsored, it now has the ability to do so, wrote John Herman for BuzzFeed.
“We may be entering the era of sponsored data — the era of an Internet that we don’t directly pay for, but that we also don’t control,” Herman wrote. “It’s the old net neutrality nightmare, in other words, disguised as a gift."
Sponsored data is already being used by AT&T.
Troy Wolverton, a columnist for the San José Mercury News, said this is a new age of the Internet, adding that the end of network neutrality will change the way people use the Web.
“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,” Wolverton wrote.
But is there reason to worry about this change? The Christian Science Monitor was told by critics and experts that the end of net neutrality will make the Internet more like cable TV.
And the FCC can appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Gigaom, a technology website, which means the decision isn't necessarily final. PC World offered a list of options the FCC has beyond an appeal, including the choice to right new rules or restructure the rules.
"Observers on both sides of the net-neutrality debate suggested the FCC’s best course of action, while not easy, may be to write new rules that establish basic protections for broadband customers," wrote Grant Gross for PC World.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler didn't express concern over the change. In fact, he thinks the end of net neutrality will lead to more competition in the marketplace, according to VentureBeat.
“It is important not to prohibit or inhibit conduct that is efficiency producing and competition enhancing,” Wheeler wrote in a blog post. “It also is important not to permit conduct that reduces efficiency, competition and utility, including the values that go beyond the material.”
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