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1/14/2014
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FCC Net Neutrality Rules Rejected

FCC must draft new rules or rely on the intervention of lawmakers if it's to regulate Internet broadband service providers.

10 Biggest Tech Disappointments Of 2013
10 Biggest Tech Disappointments Of 2013
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Verizon won a partial victory in its appeal of the Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet Order. On Tuesday the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected Verizon's claim that the FCC lacks jurisdiction over broadband providers, but also rejected the FCC's attempt to regulate the company under common carrier rules.

The ruling suggests that network neutrality cannot be enforced without further legislative intervention. The FCC's rules attempted to ensure network neutrality by requiring high-speed Internet service providers to treat all Internet traffic equally. Without such rules, a network provider could, in theory, delay streaming video traffic unless a fee is paid or favor data traffic from selected partners.

Verizon celebrated the court's ruling, characterizing the FCC's rules as an impediment to its ability to offer innovative new services to customers. Asserting that the ruling will not change consumers' ability to access the Internet -- but saying nothing about the pricing of such access or how online businesses might be affected -- the company stated, "The court's decision will allow more room for innovation, and consumers will have more choices to determine for themselves how they access and experience the Internet."

[How far can surveillance go? Read Surveillance: Fast, Cheap, And Out Of Control. ] 

The problem with the FCC's approach is that it attempted to apply the common carrier rules used to regulate phone companies to broadband service providers. The court said the FCC had elected to exempt broadband providers from common carrier rules and thus the commission could not treat them as common carriers under the Communications Act.

FCC chairperson Tom Wheeler in a statement said the ruling affirmed the commission's right to regulate broadband services and reiterated his interest in maintaining the Internet as a free and open platform. "I am committed to maintaining our networks as engines for economic growth, test beds for innovative services and products, and channels for all forms of speech protected by the First Amendment," he said, noting that the commission might yet appeal the ruling.

Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, an Internet policy advocacy group, expressed disappointment with the ruling in a statement. "[The court's] 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," he said.

George Foote, a partner at law firm Dorsey & Whitney, acknowledged the possibility of discriminatory pricing, but stressed that telecom companies can't do so with impunity. "Everybody is watching," he said. "Anybody who does try to step up and push the boundary is likely to face Internet shaming and to provide the commission with the ammunition to come in with new rules that treat providers like utilities."

The Internet can't be regulated under rules developed for a telephone monopoly, Foote said, adding that the court's ruling represents an opportunity to develop more functional legislation. He doubts the FCC will appeal. "I think Tom Wheeler is too creative for that," he said. "I expect the FCC to come up with a new approach altogether, though I have no idea what that will be."

Foote also observed that both the House and Senate might attempt to revise the Communications Act. "This whole issue is going to be front and center for a while," he said.

It's ironic, Foote added, that the D.C. Circuit Court has ended up using common carrier principles, hailing from the age of steam engines, to force lawmakers to confront the future.

Thomas Claburn is editor-at-large for InformationWeek. He has been writing about business and technology since 1996 for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and his mobile game Blocfall Free is available for iOSAndroid, and Kindle Fire.

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missmouser33
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missmouser33,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/16/2014 | 4:21:52 PM
Internet Must Go
The open internet was struck a terrible blow, so it's now more important than ever to understand the issues. For anyone who wants a refresher, here's a helpful mockumentary about net neutrality: www.theinternetmustgo.com/‎
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Author
1/15/2014 | 7:48:31 PM
Not totally reassured by this court decision
The FCC's goal of general purpose economic growth for the general good may not be the same as Verizon's idea of "innovative" services. Chances are, it's thinking of services that will carry a heavy price tag, as SomeDude8 suggests. Also, the fact that it may now be up to the House and Senate to legislate rules that constitute Internet use for the common good isn't reassuring either. Neither body has exhibited lately that it could maintain a civil debate, nevermind producing laws that yield the common good through new rules for the Internet.
Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
1/15/2014 | 12:44:31 PM
Oh those phone companies
"Verizon celebrated the court's ruling, characterizing the FCC's rules as an impediment to its ability to offer innovative new services to customers"

I love how "innovative new services" really means "ways to charge you lots more money for the same stuff you have now".
TerryB
IW Pick
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/15/2014 | 12:37:40 PM
Is Bandwidth Unlimited?
I certainly am not a defender of the AT&T's of the world and I don't pretend to understand the internet backbone at all. But I've never understood where the payback for backbone investment is when everyone is carrying  a HD TV in their pocket and expecting watch a movie over wireless connection with no issues. Do we really pay for all that in our data plans, T1 lines, ISP service, etc?

If so, where does it end? I'd really just like to pay for the internet to work well when I VPN to work. I really don't want to pay for someone else to be able to play video games and watch movies (in HD) on their iPhone, I don't do that. Is that really controlled by what is charged for the last mile? The last mile means nothing unless continued investment is made in the backbone, and that can't be cheap.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
1/15/2014 | 12:25:40 PM
Re: Complexity is the Name
Naturally, appropriate oversight measures must be in place to prevent abuses

The right level of oversight is always the problem. Yes, I could argue malicious traffic should be blocked. Who would define what traffic could and should be blocked? Who would oversee that and make sure it's not abused? More regulations means higher costs as the level of bureaucrasy grows.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
1/15/2014 | 11:20:44 AM
Silver lining
At least AT&T has said it won't throtlle back P2P traffic to try and target downloaders and thereby unfairly affect those that usee it for other things, but this is still really worrying news. 
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
1/15/2014 | 10:47:06 AM
Complexity is the Name
This is a complex issue.  It's is easy to understand and perhaps support tiered pricing in the last mile (a 1Mb/384kb DSL would be priced less than a 4Mb/2Mb DSL).  But once that data traffic is on the provider (internet) backbone, then should it be filtered/shaped except for the known priorities (voice, video) which suffers from delays?  Shaping traffic according to the status of the destination/source, corporate/private citizen (Google gets priority over Joe Citizen) has not been justified as a consideration to my satisfaction.  Even among the corporate entities, can you imagine what advantages say AT&T, Verizon, Google might have over say NetFlix to provide streamed content? 

 

The other aspect of the FCC ruling that was widely published was the ability to block certain sources.  While this remains unclear to me, I would be in favor of blocking source traffic identified to be botnets (employed in DDoS attacks for instance), malicious spammers, and a few similarly questionables like malware distribution sources.  Naturally, appropriate oversight measures must be in place to prevent abuses (appropriate not implying a secretive, ad hoc, rubber stamping court). 
the answer guy
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the answer guy,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/15/2014 | 7:20:26 AM
Kind of Horrifying ...
and it won't "matter", immediately. But it WILL matter. I wrote about this yesterday (http://answerguy.com/2014/01/14/death-of-net-neutrality-january-2014/), and actually have written about the REAL issues several times.

 

It's not pretty.
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