07
Apr
10

In Net Neutrality Ruling, the Bad Guys Win—for Now

Net neutrality isn’t a fair fight. It’s an abstract issue concerning whether Internet service providers can treat different kinds of data in different ways, and to understand it, people mainly look to see who’s on which side of the battle. That turns out to be, in the pro camp, innovative Internet companies like Google and Yahoo, who have playful logos and give you stuff for free, versus scary cable megaliths like Comcast, a.k.a. the guys who gouge you monthly and schedule installation appointments for eight-hour windows. It’s the wide open future of the Internet versus roadblocks and toll-taking. There may not be a clearer good-guys/bad-guys fight in all of technologydom. There’s a third player, too, a kind of white knight—the Federal Communications Commission’s baby-faced new chairman, Julius Genachowski. A college and law-school chum of President Obama’s, Genachowski has made net neutrality one of his signature issues, viewing it as a part of the bedrock on which America’s Webby future will rest. In his mind, to be for net neutrality is to be on the side of history.

Well, when the history of the Internet does get written, a few decades hence, it will recall that today in Washington, the bad guys won. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously ruled [PDF] that the FCC does not have the authority to force Internet service providers to obey the principles of network neutrality. Comcast v. FCC is a major battle lost for Genachowski’s camp, although the FCC has several paths of recourse. One, an appeal to the Supreme Court, is iffy. Another is to pursue what’s known as the “nuclear option,” and reclassify broadband Internet as a communication service just like the nation’s phone system, bringing it fully under FCC regulation.

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