Last year, the Federal Communications Commission adopted Open Internet rules that are intended to protect the web from practices like double-charging for bandwidth use and throttling bandwidth for users who decline to pay an extra toll.
A number of organizations — most prominently ISPs — are opposed these net neutrality rules, and launched a series of court cases designed to see the FCC’s decision overturned. In one of these cases, a Court Of Appeal has upheld the FCC’s ruling, and thereby the principle of an open internet. It’s likely the ISPs will take the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, but the recent ruling is at least an indication that net neutrality has legal staying power.
Net neutrality is the principle that all data travelling over the internet should be treated equally, technical considerations like contention management aside. The obvious example here is ISPs who attempt to impose charges on bandwidth users like Netflix. Netflix already pays its bandwidth providers for their services. Consumers pay the last-mile ISPs for their bandwidth. The ISPs want to be able to charge companies like Netflix for access to their customers — for the bandwidth they use to send data to those customers, violating net neutrality and harming the open internet.
Speaking about the ruling, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said:
“It ensures the internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth. After a decade of debate and legal battles, today’s ruling affirms the Commission’s ability to enforce the strongest possible internet protections — both on fixed and mobile networks — that will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future.”
The Open Internet rules impose limitations on how bandwidth providers can monetize and manage their networks. ISPs must not,
- Block access to legal content and services.
- Throttle bandwidth to degrade the quality of lawful internet traffic on the basis of content, service, or application.
- Prioritize and favor internet traffic over other internet traffic in exchange for consideration (payment), or prioritize traffic of their affiliates.
The rules are intended to impose the same restrictions on bandwidth providers that exist for so-called common carriers like telephony companies.
The internet as it exists today came about because anyone was free to launch a site or service on the web. Imagine what the internet would have looked like if, in the late nineties, a major ISP was working on building a search engine, and to protect its investment, had insisted that a startup named Google paid for access to its users. We wouldn’t have the internet or the world we have today.
Net neutrality is important to us because our clients are bandwidth users. They pay us for bandwidth, and we pay our upstream bandwidth providers. Our clients’ users pay their ISP for bandwidth and for access to content on the internet. We see no reason why ISPs should also be paid by our clients — the ISPs should not be paid twice for the same service.
Net neutrality is essential if the internet is to continue to make space for the vibrant expression of ideas and innovation, and so we welcome the ruling which, while far from the final word on the issue, is at least a gesture in the right direction.