Federal Court Nixes Net Neutrality

"You want more data? Keep putting large bills in my hand, I'll see what I can do."

I’ll admit that over the years, as the speed of my Internet connection has gotten progressively faster, I’ve taken it for granted that there are limitations to every data connection. I’ve been in neighborhoods where there were very few people connected to my provider and the data speeds were only limited by the hardware on my end. But I’ve also been in neighborhoods where my provider was suffering from an overpopulation of heavy data users and I’d see my downloads slow to a crawl. But even then, I didn’t consider the fact that there might one day be a cost above and beyond my monthly service fee.

Unfortunately, that may be were we’re headed… Connections to data intensive applications and sites could be strictly monitored and even produce additional costs on your cable bill.

Fiction, you say? I wish it were.

A federal court ruled on Tuesday that the Federal Communications Commission (that’s the FCC for you acronym lovers out there) had neither the right nor the authority to prevent broadband providers from charging “premium service” fees or prevent certain data from gobbling up network capacity. The three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia essentially overturned the concept of “Net Neutrality” opening the door for companies such as Comcast to begin charging additional fees for access to data intensive applications.

You may be asking what exactly Net Neutrality is and what it might mean to you. Fortunately, Uncle Gritskrieg is here to give you a few pointers on just that.

Net Neutrality is the idea that there needs to be a policy in place to prevent broadband providers from restricting access to certain types of data. The policy would also prevent those same providers from charging you, the consumer, extra dough if you want to use a service like Netflix which is data intensive when you’re streaming that High-Def movie to your big ol’ plasma screen tv. It would prevent the companies from favoring or discriminating against which sites you could access from your provider’s network.

Still unclear? Let me break it down even further. Big Cable Provider Inc. decides to open a web site similar to BusyGamer.com. In order to make certain they get the users on their network that are currently viewing BusyGamer.com, they limit the amount of traffic that can visit the site while at the same time allowing their users to visit BCP Inc.’s own BusyBusyBusyGamer.com. Or worse, accessing the original site for Busy Gamer’s incurs an extra charge on your monthly statement.

Now we’re not a data intensive site but the example is valid. Cable has been losing customers to sites like Netflix and Hulu. Both of these sites are very data intensive and as such, could be argued by the cable company that there should be a limited amount of traffic to those sites in order to maintain Quality of Service for all of its customers. Which may or may not be a crock in the majority of the cities where they do business.

Opponents of Net Neutrality commonly argue that the government’s involvement would lead to censorship or restrictive guidelines that would determine what is or isn’t appropriate for the general public. Think I’m kidding? Go here and scroll to the bottom and read through two or three pages of the comments. See what I mean?

Already we see cellular companies placing restrictions on data cards. It could be argued that the clogged cellular data networks are actually better for the restrictions. Ask your friend with the iPhone what it’s like to be in a convention center with a couple of thousand of other iPhone users who are all trying to Tweet, download email, upload pics, or check their Facebook all at the same time. This isn’t a shot at AT&T or Apple, it’s just the way data networks work. Too many connections means an overall decline in service for everyone.

I’m for Network Neutrality. I don’t want my broadband provider to be able to shut me down when I watch Netflix all day Saturday. I don’t want bandwidth restrictions or premium charges on my bill. But I’m not all that thrilled of the possibility of being stuck on a network with a few hundred BitTorrent users who all decide to download the newest Brittany Spears album all at the same time.

Currently the FCC has defined broadband as a lightly regulated information service. A loophole to the judges’ ruling would be for the FCC to reclassify broadband as heavily regulated. In that case, the FCC has both the power and authority to tell the providers what they can and cannot do but it also means more watchdogs have to be in place to make sure everyone is playing fair. And this also, unfortunately, would lead to price hikes as the taxes collected from the phone and cable companies increased in order to offset the government’s costs for those watchdogs.

There’s the chance that the FCC may appeal the outcome of the federal court or even go to Congress to ask that the FCC be given the authority to regulate broadband. But both of these scenarios are highly unlikely considering the time it would take for either. And with the FCC facing the possibility that their plans for the expansion of broadband access across the country may be in jeopardy, it is more likely that the reclassification will take place.

Let’s just hope they do it before our cable providers start charging us for accessing Netflix. Or worse, block us from it completely.

Gritskrieg – End of Line

Posted By Gritskrieg

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