Looks like net neutrality will be preserved for the foreseeable future. In a 2-1 ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals, consumer groups and President Obama won a victory against companies that want to block or hinder online content…or divide it into different pay scale “lanes.”
According to the ruling, broadband internet is considered another utility, like water and electricity, so providers cannot entice sites to pay more for faster service. Essentially, this ruling protects rules that have been in place for the past year.
Though some market prognosticators are saying this will lead to blackouts and the loss of some content. Defenders of net neutrality say that’s just a scare tactic by the Internet companies hoping to cash in by offering faster speeds to deep-pocketed Internet companies.
The win was a first for net neutrality defenders after two previous court losses. Telecom companies that had been crowing are now livid. They say sites like YouTube and Netflix, which create massive amounts of Internet traffic cost them a bundle, and they are not able to recoup those expenditures. They further claim these rulings will “undermine investment in broadband service and faster infrastructure.”
Proponents of net neutrality say that’s yet again another scare tactic. And, in their lengthy ruling, the judges smacked down those claims, saying: “Over the past two decades, this content has transformed nearly every aspect of our lives, from profound actions like choosing a leader, building a career, and falling in love to more quotidian ones like hailing a cab and watching a movie… The same assuredly cannot be said for broadband providers' own add-on applications.”
Still, not all the judges were on the same page. In his dissent, Judge Stephen Williams said the rules should have been stricken. Williams claims the FCC failed to offer a reasonable basis for its position.
So why did net neutrality win this time? Part of the reason has to be credited to the upswell of social media support for net neutrality. As they prepared to argue their case, proponents turned to the Internet to move public opinion to their way of thinking. In a few weeks, Internet users who had been essentially ignorant of the entire argument were not only conversant, they were passionate in their defense of net neutrality.
This success, communicating relatively complicated technical and legal principles in easy to digest and share messages, proved to be a big cultural win for the neutrality defenders. It was a level of success to sway public opinion they had not previously attained, and it resulted in a courtroom win as well.
David Firester is the founder of TRAC Intelligence, a intelligence analysis firm in New Jersey.