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Internet to the Highest Bidder? Court Delivers Blow to Net Neutrality

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file photo (Credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

file photo (Credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Ian Bush Ian Bush
Ian Bush is an anchor, reporter, news editor, and technology editor&nb...
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by KYW tech editor Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The Internet doesn’t play favorites — at least, until now.

A federal appeals court has sided against the government’s efforts to impose “net neutrality” rules on Internet Service Providers. It’s a decision that could have implications for how you browse the web.

The Federal Communication Commission’s rules have kept David and Goliath on a level playing field — at least when it comes to how a site or stream gets to your screen.

“One of the premises of the Internet is that it is open — that anyone can start a website and be the next Amazon.” says Robert Field, professor of law and public health at Drexel University School of Law. “I think ultimately this is a threat to that premise.”

Companies like Verizon argue they know better than the government how to deliver the web to your home or mobile device, and that the regulations damage their ability to reduce network congestion and keep rates reasonable.

But advocates of net neutrality — the principle that all Internet traffic is treated equally — fear ISPs now will leave some sites in rush-hour on the Schuylkill as other pages reach Autobahn speeds.

“It depends whether you believe the worst-case scenario of the consumer advocates,” explains Field, formerly a lawyer for the FCC. “What they’re saying is that this would give the Verizons and the Comcasts the authority to favor some websites over others, because they’re paid to favor them. Or, they could charge such exorbitant fees that a start-up — a small business, for instance — would have a lot of trouble reaching customers.”

Could Comcast give its Xfinity Streampix service a boost while letting, say, Netflix lag? In a statement, Comcast exec David Cohen says they’re “absolutely committed” to giving customers an “open and vibrant” Internet experience — and anyway, Comcast is bound by the terms of its purchase of NBCUniversal to follow net neutrality rules for several more years, even after Tuesday’s court ruling.

FCC boss Tom Wheeler says the commission is considering its options. As it weighs an appeal, and as some in Congress mull a legislative response, Field doesn’t expect ISPs to make big changes in the near future.

“But ultimately, if they have the chance to make more money by helping some sites download faster, it’s hard to imagine they’re not going to do that,” he says.

 

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