Earlier this month, the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s net neutrality rules. In short, the court said that FCC didn’t have the authority to regulate ISPs in the same way they regulate common carriers (i.e. phone service providers). Now everybody wants to know where the FCC will go from here, but the Commission is still being rather ambiguous.
The Hill reports that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said on Tuesday that the Commission would be taking a “dynamic” approach to net neutrality. What that means remained unexplained as Wheeler wouldn’t say if the FCC would be introducing new net neutrality laws to replace those that were struck down.
Despite some ambiguity, Wheeler did say that any new approach to net neutrality would have to take the ever evolving Internet into account. His concern seems to be that any Internet regulations wouldn’t be able to keep up with the lightning fast pace at which the Internet develops. He said just as much by stating that the FCC doesn’t want “to say that somehow we’re smarter than the net.”
So, where does the FCC go from here? It has two options – it can either reclassify ISPs as common carriers or it can take the wait and see approach. ISPs obviously want it to take the latter as they keep on saying the American public and regulators can trust them not to abuse their newfound freedom. Wheeler feels that way as well, but he isn’t exactly trusting. On the day of the ruling, he said that the FCC will bring down the regulatory hammer “if something appears to go wrong in a material, not a trivial, way.”
As for those who rely on an open Web to operate, they weren’t particularly pleased with the ruling. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in particular said that the ruling opened up the possibility for domestic ISPs to “legally impede the video streams that members request from Netflix.” Hastings later threatened to rally the full brunt force of an angry Internet if ISPs try to degrade his service in favor of their own.
In a perfect world, net neutrality would be a thing that goes unquestioned. Unfortunately, nothing is ever perfect. As we explore this post-net neutrality Internet, ISPs are going to start experimenting with ways to make more money off an already near pure-profit business. If you want an early preview, just take a look at AT&T’s Sponsored Data. If the FCC doesn’t act on any of this, we might just have to go the Netflix route and start a good ol’ fashioned Internet riot.
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