US Court of Appeals Overturns Net Neutrality And You Can Thank Verizon

You know who’s not a fan of net neutrality? Verizon. The mobile carrier issued a challenge to--and defeated--the FCC’s order that imposes net neutrality rules that include transparency, no blocking, and no unreasonable discrimination policies. The U.S. Court of Appeals has vacated the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules.

Fortunately, the transparency portion of net neutrality is still in place, but the rest has been tripped up by technicalities. A central issue appears to be how the FCC has classified broadband providers “in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers”, or so states the court’s decision. “Because the Commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet Order.”

If you want to get the complete picture, there’s around 60 pages of reasoning and background in the U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision, which is a slow and dry read.

Net Neutrality

To consumers, what’s most galling is Verizon’s attitude about the whole thing, posturing as the protector of the open Internet. Here are a couple of choice quotes from Verizon’s statement on the decision:

The court found that the FCC could not impose last century’s common carriage requirements on the Internet, and struck down rules that limited the ability of broadband providers to offer new and innovative services to their customers

To most people, that just sounds completely backwards. Here’s more:

“One thing is for sure: today’s decision will not change consumers’ ability to access and use the Internet as they do now.” That’s untrue; if that were the case, Verizon wouldn’t have any issue with net neutrality rules. The whole point of combating these rules is so that carriers can play games in the market to make more money, including charging services like Netflix more money for gobbling up so much bandwidth, or allow companies with deep pockets such as Google to pay more to have their content promoted. Or worse, Verizon and other carriers could simply block whatever they want. All they have to do is disclose that they’re doing.

“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,” reads more of Verizon’s statement. Those words are tricky, because it is true that there will be more innovation in terms of pricing structures, bandwidth caps, sponsored data like the program AT&T proposed, and so on. However, it’s only partly true that consumers will have more choice; if you’re willing to pay for it, you will likely have more choice than those who can’t or won’t. The choices will be more in the hands of ISPs than anyone else, and that’s precisely what the FCC was trying to avoid with net neutrality.

Verizon is at best myopic about its role in the present and future of the Internet, but today’s ruling is not one that favors consumers. The FCC will, no doubt, appeal and continue to pursue net neutrality. The fight will continue.