With the “Open Internet” rule struck down by a US court, the future of the online landscape is now murkier than ever.
An appeals court in Washington this week ruled unconstitutional a “Net Neutrality” rule that bars broadband Internet providers from discriminating or playing favorites for online services.
Backers of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet rule say the court decision could lead to a radically different online landscape controlled by Internet firms, but some analysts say it will change little and may even improve consumer choice.
The decision “opens the door to a very different future for the Internet,” said David Sohn, an attorney with the digital activist Center for Democracy & Technology.
“The rules tried to preserve this innovation that allows cool new services to bubble up at any time.”
Sarah Morris at the New America Foundation said that “without these rules, consumers are at the mercy of their providers and the business arrangements those providers have already said they would implement… business arrangements that could severely limit access to certain content online.”
But analysts noted that the court relied on a narrow legal argument, saying Internet providers were not “common carriers,” or regulated utilities. The court also said, however, that the FCC still has a role for some kind of regulation of the carriers as “information services.”
Annemarie Bridy of the University of Idaho College of Law said the FCC still could enforce neutrality if it has “the political will.”
Bridy said the FCC would need to separate, for regulatory purposes, the connectivity aspect of the Internet from “the information component.”
“By reclassifying the connectivity component as a telecommunications service, the FCC would be operating squarely within the bounds of its statutory authority to impose anti-blocking and non-discrimination obligations on broadband providers,” she said in a blog post.
Scott Cleland, a former White House telecom adviser with the consulting firm Precursor LLC, said the court ruling was “a win-win, because both sides got what they wanted the most.”
Cleland said Verizon, which brought the lawsuit and was backed by a number of allies, averted the prospect of heavy regulation, which he said could have meant price controls.