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Netflix in the Crosshairs as Net Neutrality Debate Starts Again
September 17, 2013
By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer
Just when many thought it was safe to go back on the Internet, suddenly the debate about the “net neutrality” doctrine is back up and running again. The arguments sound oddly familiar this time, and each side is eager to preserve its own advantages as the “Open Internet” rule approved by the FCC (News - Alert) in 2010 comes back out for debate, as one side works for changes to the rule, and the other works to preserve it.
Essentially, under the terms of the “Open Internet” rule, which has been described as “seemingly arcane” by outside observers, both governments and Internet service providers are encouraged to treat all data as merely data, and pay no respect to the source of said data or its content. Without such a rule in place, some say, it would be a simple matter for, say, Verizon (News - Alert) to charge more for some forms of traffic than others, or not allow certain traffic to come across at all.
The “Open Internet” rule was approved by the FCC back in 2010, but Verizon – backed up by a coterie of assorted allies – is launching a new charge, disputing the FCC's authority to establish rules of any kind on this front. Verizon and company also note that Congress never specifically decided that Internet service companies were to be regarded as regulated utilities or “common carriers.”
Those who support the FCC's position, meanwhile, note that the “Open Internet” rules proved “an important safeguard both for innovation and investment on the Internet,” according to Center for Democracy and Technology attorney David Sohn. The FCC decision – which itself was split three to two – said that the rules in question were established such that the Internet would have “no gatekeepers limiting innovation and communication through the network.” The appeals court, meanwhile, seemed narrowly split in favor of overturning the rules, based on either jurisdiction or the fundamental legal arguments.
But for those concerned—and there are plenty who would be concerned under these decisions, including anyone who watches streaming video or uses VoIP service—there's little reason for alarm, at least right now. This is a process that's not likely to be finished tomorrow, as regardless of what the appeals court currently tackling the issue decides, the losing side will likely stage one more appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, and there's also potential for Congress to step in.
Some believe that even if Verizon and the like had the power to shut off Netflix traffic in favor of a home-grown breed, it likely wouldn't do so anyway as such a concept, according to one Washington lawyer who specializes in technology, would be “commercially infeasible.” Of course, this doesn't address the issues of competition—or the lack thereof--that so often occur in Internet service provider circles; in more than a few places, it's a one-or-none proposition. That doesn't even consider what happens if enough providers bring out home-grown offerings like Comcast (News - Alert) was recently seen doing with its Xfinity on Demand service on Xbox 360 devices. But then, considering the destabilizing force of Google (News - Alert) Fiber, it may be that other companies will see the potential risk for Google to land and steal a lot of business should Netflix suddenly be persona non grata on a lot of other networks.
It's a difficult situation, and one that may go very wrong for consumers in short order. Undoubtedly, many are hopeful that the current rules will be upheld, and that the right of regular people to enjoy Netflix and the like at home will likewise be upheld.
Edited by Blaise McNamee
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