Net Neutrality Set in Stone, For Now

Carl Weinschenk
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Nothing is forever and beyond change. That said, it is beginning look as if net neutrality will be with us for a while. Certainly, it is embedded in our laws more firmly than it ever has been.

In a 2-to-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that the rules promulgated early last year by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are legal. The challenge had been brought by a group of telecommunications companies and associations. The Washington Post reports that the ruling has the narrow impact of prohibiting unequal treatment of content providers. That, however, is just one example of the impact of a regulatory structure that enables telecommunications to be managed as a utility:

More broadly, the decision affirms Washington's ability to regulate Internet providers like legacy telephone companies. Approved in a bitterly partisan vote last year, the move by the FCC to "reclassify" Internet providers significantly expanded the agency's role in overseeing the industry. It opened up Internet providers to all-new obligations they were not subject to before, such as privacy requirements that all telecom companies currently follow in order to protect consumers' personal data.


The big ISPs and their allies have been working to find ways around net neutrality, as if they suspected that the DC Circuit would rule as it did. Zero rating approaches vary, but generally focus on not counting services from favored providers against subscribers’ data plans. Opponents see an end around net neutrality; proponents see normal marketplace competition. In any case, it seems unlikely, at this point, that zero rating will be constrained by net neutrality, at least according to The Verge:

Notably, the Open Internet Order does not affect zero-rating services like T-Mobile's BingeOn or Verizon's Go90, which are intentionally left out of the scope of the order. "I can argue there are some aspects of [zero rating] that are good, and I can argue there’s some aspects of it that are not so good," Wheeler told The Verge in an interview in March. "The job of the regulator is to figure out, 'Okay, now how do I deal with this?'"

There is always a chance that the Supreme Court will overturn the DC District. The counsel for AT&T already promised to go that route, according to The Hill. It is possible that the case will not be accepted by the court, however. If that happens, the legal standing of net neutrality will be cemented.

Politico today posted a piece on Congressional Republicans’ policy agenda. The goal is to roll back regulation, which they see as holding back American business. The piece says that among the targets will be the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, energy and climate-related rules -- and net neutrality.

Nothing stays the same in the world of law and politics, however. The drive to net neutrality was a product of the Obama Administration; this will likely stay about the same if Hillary Clinton becomes president. If Donald Trump wins, however, drastic change becomes more likely.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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