Web wars come down to court rulings4/30/2014
The last few months have been extremely tumultuous pertaining to the future of the Internet. Prior to a federal Appeals Court ruling in January, all Web content was legally required to be treated the same: Streaming video needed to be loaded on users’ computers at the same speed as someone reading a simple blog. However in January, a Washington, D.C.,-based Appeals Court abolished that rule, stating that the Federal Communications Commission misclassified Internet Service Providers and thereby lacked the legal justification to set such a rule. This immediately changed the landscape of the Internet.
The FCC has come up with a new set of Net neutrality guidelines. Under its proposed “Open Internet” rules, Web content can not be blocked or throttled by ISPs, but providers are allowed to reach agreements with Web properties for faster connection times.
The main difference between Net neutrality and open Internet is the new priority loading speeds. With Net neutrality gone, Netflix quickly signed an agreement with Comcast to protect its service from being throttled, something rather important as its bottom-line requires streaming customers have high-speed Web access. Under open Internet, the Netflix-Comcast contract wouldn’t be necessary, but having such an agreement in place means Comcast could boost access speeds to Netflix, creating an Internet expressway of sorts.
Web companies decry the expressway idea as establishing a class warfare between online properties — those who can pay for priority loading and those who cannot. The FCC says providers who discriminate or throttle Web traffic will be sanctioned, and expressway contracts will be policed to protect Web users and content creators from “commercially unreasonable” agreements.
At its best, Net neutrality was an ideal goal more than anything. ISPs routinely broke its constraints and continually challenged it in court. While open Internet doesn’t sound like the perfect solution to ISP “gate keeper” mentality and won’t be in place until the year-end, it’s much better than the alternative of a post-apocalyptic, online wasteland where only the rich can reach your screen. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.