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Net Neutrality Neutered: How the Verizon Court Decision Affects You

With the new ruling, your Internet service provider could block competing services.
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On Tuesday, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck a possibly fatal blow to the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules. The case, brought by Verizon against the FCC, has significant implications for the future of Internet access. But while the 2-1 ruling may seem like a death knell for the open Internet, there's still hope that net neutrality can live on.

A Grave Situation for Consumers

Net neutrality isn't just a popular buzzword; it's the guiding concept behind a set of rules adopted by the FCC in 2010. The Open Internet rules are intended to promote Internet service provider transparency, and prevent ISPs from blocking or unreasonably discriminating against lawful online content. However, the appeals court ruled that the FCC doesn't have the authority to dictate how ISPs grant access to content, though the agency retained its ability to regulate broadband providers on more general terms.

The trouble for consumers is that this ruling leaves room for provider abuses. Without regulation from the FCC, broadband providers could "either block competing internet services on their landline networks, or charge those companies extra for features like guaranteed delivery or higher performance," according to Engadget. For example, an ISP like Comcast could feasibly ask a website like DealNews to pay a fee to guarantee Comcast customers access to the site. If our site chose to pay, then another ISP like Verizon could block its users' access to this article because our site was working with a competitor. And because many ISPs have a monopoly over the broadband in their service areas, consumers will just have to deal with throttled speeds and blocked sites — or give up their Internet access.

Net Neutrality Limps On (for Now)

All is not yet lost for net neutrality. Tuesday's ruling is likely to be appealed, if not by the FCC, then by consumer advocacy groups. Another option would be for Congress to pass a law giving the FCC more power to regulate broadband, but that seems unlikely in the current political climate. According to Slate, the best option would be for the FCC to rewrite its rules, so it can stop classifying the Internet services provided by cable and phone companies as "information services" (which it does not have the authority to regulate), and instead treat them as "telecommunications services" (which the FCC does have authority over).

For what it's worth, in its response to the court's decision, Verizon offered its assurance that customers wouldn't see interruptions in their Internet access: "Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet that provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content when, where, and how they want." Verizon echoed the sentiments of other Internet providers and net neutrality opponents when it hailed the decision, saying it will foster innovation in the marketplace and give customers more choices.

Despite Verizon's rosy words, the reality is that for the time being we are at the mercy of our ISPs. The good news is that the public outrage generated by this decision is likely to spur the FCC to action in quickly repairing the damage to its net neutrality rules.

Readers, how do you feel about the ruling? Will you be closely monitoring your ISP for abuses in the coming months, or do you think this whole net neutrality thing has been blown out of proportion? Give us your take in the comments below!


Features Writer

Marcy pens consumer news stories of all sorts, in addition to adding pithy prose to many of the roundups you see every day. Her work for DealNews has appeared on sites like Lifehacker, the Huffington Post, and MSN Money. She is by far the most metal member of the DealNews staff, and you can see why by following her on Twitter @ThatBonebright.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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24 comments
jcauthorn
"Net Neutrality" is a nice sounding name for government regulations. History has shown that government regulations stifle innovation and competition. The last thing I want to do is to have the government start regulating the internet - if you think it will stop here, please read some history. If some vendor is willing to pay to provide you with data that doesn't go against your cap on your plan, why would you object to that? The likelihood of any isp blocking legitimate traffic is laughable at best - competition will ensure that silliness never happens. On the other hand, I *WANT* my isp to block spam, malware, and put a lower priority on torrents, while giving a higher priority to voip. If this government regulation disguised as "net neutrality" is enforced, then spammers and malware will get the exact same priority as your valid traffic. Why would you want that? Please don't be fooled.
96sarge
Someone said in a comment that the ISPs should be treated like cellular companies and I think I agree. Your cellular provider is not allowed to block who you call. ISPs shouldn't be allowed to block (or slow down) sites you visit.

I am a big believer in free market, but this borderlines on extortion. Some areas only have one ISP to choose from (like I do). How is that "free market" when you don't actually have a choice? Well, I guess some smarta__ will say "you don't HAVE to have internet" and they're basically right, but that still doesn't justify the ISPs blocking/slowing certain sites. Internet is such a part of our lives now that choosing to not have internet is like choosing to not have electricity.
Digital Brain
Would using a VPN help if Verizon tries to block sites? Not sure, just asking for an answer from someone who understands VPN's more than I do.
blue_ridge_hiker
Typical lobbying/payoff tactics by Verizon. The telephone companies were happy to charge everybody a flat rate for phone service for years and rake in billions. Then they decided we should pay more for a blip of a text message than a phone message-more billions. Now they want to control the Internet feed that we already pay for. If I pay for a 6 Mbps feed then I should be able to download at that rate 24/7. The monthly cost for "bundled" packages of Internet/cable/phone have gotten so far out of control that they border on extortion. Throw in the monthly cost for a smartphone and most consumers are paying $200/month for something that they probably use less than 6 hours out of 24.
CharlieMac
It is easy to be taken in by appeals to "fairness", but companies should have the right to charge customers to reflect cost and market demand. Use more, pay more,use less, pay less. Very few seem to have a problem with that in the cellular space. "Net neutrality" is price control and price controls always lead to market distortions, customers losing in the end. Low bandwidth customers end up paying more for infrastructure they don't use, and high-bandwidth users lose out because suppliers don't have the incentive to build a better and faster pipeline. I think that's what called the problem of "free riders" in economics. What's funny is the people who push net neutrality are the same ones who complain about free riders in other areas. The high bandwidth user is obviously a free rider in a net neutrality environment. But in health care, everybody gets bent out of shape for the supposed free riders with no insurance. The ISP's are not your enemy, price controls are.
eldirecto
Hey mrbib, are you a shareholder/manager/exec of one these tyrannical companies? $50/month for access is more than enough for network maintenance/upgrade/dividend payout/ceo bonuses. for these providers to cry about network congestion/detrimental impact of service delivery is total bull.
Verizon's Q3 2013 profit was in excess of 2 billion.
Their stance is one of pure and total greed.
mrbib
I don't get all the hysteria. First, there's the principle of the thing. Why do large companies like Netflix, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and others have the right to make free use of other large companies' (like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and others) infrastructure in order to deliver goods and services? The analogy is a pizza franchise that expects to deliver pizza without paying for the driver, the gas, or even the car.

More importantly, does anyone think the entities involved (both the content providers and the ISPs) aren't going to come to mutually beneficial terms here? What benefit is it to either side to be inflexible? Is there any real evidence that says the ISPs have been throttling network traffic unacceptably? For heavy users, won't there be an ISP data plan that accommodates your need? If I watch rather little streaming traffic, why should I pay for what the data monster next door uses?
vwoom
Signed


Petition signed.
teancum144
Please consider signing this petition to "Tell the FCC: Restore Net Neutrality": http://act.freepress.net/...decision2/?source=conf
dealnews-mbonebright
@sanderson,
Just to clarify, the court held that the FCC has authority to regulate broadband and ISPs. From the court's opinion (which I link to above): "The Commission, we further hold, has reasonably interpreted section 706 to empower it to promulgate rules governing broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic, and its justification for the specific rules at issue here — that they will preserve and facilitate the “virtuous circle” of innovation that has driven the explosive growth of the Internet — is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence."

The question of whether ISPs provide information services or telecom services is a matter of classification that previous courts (and Congress) have left to the FCC. Sorry if that was unclear! If you'd like to read more about the intricacies of this debate, I highly recommend this (colorfully worded) article from The Verge: .theverge.com/...e-death-of-the-internetrnet[/url]
ARRC
The problem is that we won't know what we don't know. If you don't know which sites are being blocked by your ISP, how will you be able to respond? Do you think your ISP is going to voluntarily list all the sites that they are blocking or keeping available? Self policing often doesn't work, and I'm not convinced that we can trust any ISP to do the right thing when money is involved. In my area, a suburb of DC, we only have two choices of high speed ISP; so switching providers may not be a good alternative for a company that decides to limit open access to the internet. The lack of competitive pressures often means higher prices and fewer choices.
strungout999
There is a petition started here:

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/...ality/b3FLR9jK
EmmaT
The problem with this is ISPs can force you to their products. How you ask? Say you have Comcast as your ISP and a VoIP phone device from Vonage. If Comcast offers phone service and you don't have a contract for phone service with Comcast, they can now turn off or restrict the port used for VoIP traffic! When you call to complain, they offer their service for extra $$$.
sanderson
Did I say anything about being for or against regulation of monopolies? I must have been unconscious when I wrote that part. Oh, except it isn't there.

What I have a problem with is Slate (and Dealnews?) implying that the FCC should just redefine what they can regulate to make it so. The whims of the Executive branch (no matter who holds the Presidency) do not and should not trump laws as passed by elected representatives. That would be Congress. If Congress had the Constitutional authority to do so and wanted the FCC to regulate ISPs, they would have passed such a law. They haven't.
Hadoukin
Then I presume sanderson also favors no regulations on monopolies.
sanderson
So is Dealnews advocating that the FCC, a regulatory agency, simply create regulatory authority out of thin air? Since no law passed by Congress has ever given the FCC authority over ISPs, are you saying that any and every federal agency can simply declare it has powers never granted by law? That is great if you are the King's men, whoops, I mean regulatory agency employees.

You really want unaccountable and faceless bureaucrats in Washington to be in charge of every aspect of your life? You may want to read a little history (just about any time and government will do) and see how that works out. Or you may already understand what the implications are, and be content to be 'safe' under the thumb of (eventual) tyrants.

As for talkenrain, I submit that you have the answer and don't even understand it. What you have so simply and eloquently stated is the basis of the free market. Welcome to freedom...
kyee79
Is there a pettion us as a consumer could sign to bring this up to the law makers attention?
jestith
Where I live there is only one ISP offering better than 1mbps, so if, for instance, they align with Netflix over Amazon and deliberately interfere with Amazon Prime Videos, I'm out of luck. I think ISPs should be allowed to charge for heavier users, but I think they should have as little say over what ethernet packets they deliver as the utility company has a say over what electrons they deliver or what appliances I send them to.
frank-ostrike
Everyone says they are worried about an ISP controlling/limiting access (even though you could always switch ISPs if an ISP company was stupid enough to do that), but everyone is OK with the Government being able to limit or control your access? That makes no sense to me. If the government says, "You can't say this or you can't do that" on the Internet, that's it. At least with an ISP, as I said, I can always give them the middle finger and take my business someplace else.
good2014
U.S. Law has never been able to keep up with technology. I get my phone service over the internet via voip via Comcast. What other group continues to raise its rates on a yearly basis at such large percentages? Municipalities get a monthly check called a "franchise fee' from the cable companies. I know I used to deliver them. What percentage of your household budget goes to Cable? What happened to "cable ready tv's? Useless now! The cable lobbyist didn't like that because they would lose income from box and dvr rentals & Pay per view and 2 way interactive purchases. Right now an HD box with a dvr is $22 per box per TV. Now you can't even get basic channels on a cable ready tv without having to rent a set top box for a monthly fee & one does not even exist yet that gives you digital to analog in HD. A cable ready tv could until the FCC gave cable companies permission to scramble even basic digital channels.
Cable is a monopoly that has gotten out of control and the FCC is to blame.
just me
ISP's will limit access and we would never notice - will only be disclosed in privacy statements that 0.0001% actually read. Businesses that pay up will get fast bandwidth, one's who don't will get zilch. Big corp eats up small biz once again. The ruling should be unconstitutional in every manner possible but biz owning the law wins again. Sad day for equal information flow. And what about those areas with only one ISP - what choice do they have? So wrong.
Cilvre
Comcast has limited my access before when using torrents for linux distros just because they blanket torrents all under nefarious. I don't think they should have the ability to cut off your entire internet access in this manner again or the ability to charge consumers or businesses more to get access to something they already pay for. The FCC needs to change how isp's are classified and slap them back down to being straight data pipes. For all the money they earn in business, they could be pushing their network forward instead of paying their ceo's in all these corporate bonuses. congress will try to aid them though as they take kickbacks from these companies and lobbyist groups.
JABrwoky13
ISP stands for Internet Service Provider not for Information service provider. The FCC should fix their rules and re-classify the ISP's as service providers. ISP's should not be allowed to regulate which websites you access. The consumers should be protected, not the monopolistic ISP's.
talkenrain
I'm seriously concerned. It's crazy to think ISP should be able to limit or control my access. For me, the ISP that limits my access will not be my ISP very long.
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