FCC’s Authority Over Internet Rejected By US Court: What Does This Mean?

by Irma Arkus

Announced yesterday was a disturbing court finding: the US D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an earlier FCC ruling against Comcast for interfering with the BitTorrent traffic, better known as bandwith throttling. Essentially, the court’s ruling dismisses FCC’s power to regulate the Internet outright, similarly to how US Environmental Protection Agency was hampered from enacting any regulations against corporate polluters in California.

But better question yet is what this means for Internet users, particularly in terms of the ongoing battle for established Net Neutrality?

While EFF wisely points out that Comcast has already succumbed to pressure of its user base, who demanded that Net Neutrality principles be adopted and enacted by the ISP, the remainder of providers may take advantage of this ruling in order to continue with expansion of deep packet inspection and bandwidth throttling.

But as Fred von Lohmann points out, FCC is currently not the regulatory body and it should not necessarily be one either, when considering its history of easily succumbing to public pressure and conservative hysteria. Nipplegate scandal for one, caused the FCC to demand millions of dollars in punitive damage for the Superbowl scandal, and television content has undergone changes in “decency” standards.

Should we expect FCC to also demand the impossible moral clauses for Internet content then?

The ruling is the one hand worrisome, as it allows Canadian authorities and regulatory commission, the CRTC, as well as our federal conservative politicians to suggest that across the border, net neutrality principles have not been adopted, opening Canadian consumers to yet another barrage of potential legalities and regulations that would make Internet content less accessible, and more expensive.

On the other hand, the gatekeepers, electronic rights lawyers, activists and networking specialists all agree that it is time for US to gain a foothold in the Web 2.0 world by having a more politically neutral body to regulate Internet traffic. Unfortunately for us, that usually means that it will also be invaded by corporate instead of civil interests. [EFF]