U.S. Court of Appeals Allows ISP’s to Selectively Block Web Traffic

Say goodbye to the Internet we’ve known – Published on Axis of Logic (first on Mercury News), by Troy Wolverton, Jan 15, 2014.

If you like how cable television works, you’re going to love how a court decision Tuesday could change the Internet.

Thanks to the ruling, broadband providers can now exert a lot more control over what sites you visit on the Internet and what services you can access. The decision would allow Comcast, for example, to bar its Internet subscribers from seeing videos from Netflix (NFLX) or from using Vonage’s Internet phone service. 

Made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the decision overturned rules put in place by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010 that barred wired Internet providers from blocking access to particular sites or services, and generally required them to treat all Internet traffic equally.

While the court’s ruling will worry and anger advocates of an open Internet, it’s federal regulators, not the judges, who are to blame. Their subservience to the big telecommunications companies and timidity in writing the rules governing Internet traffic led directly to the court’s decision.

One thing that has made the Internet distinct from pay television services is the role of the service provider. With pay TV, the cable or satellite company determines what channels you can watch, which often depends on what kind of financial deals the providers can strike with the channel operators. As subscribers have seen, disputes over who should pay what can lead to channels or programs going off the air.

Since its founding, the Internet has operated differently, at least in this country. The understanding — underwritten by certain legal precedents — was that end users should be able to connect to any site or service attached to the network, not just those that their broadband service provider approves. There’s also long been a generally understood principle that all Internet providers should treat the bits that pass through their networks more or less the same; that you should be able to access video from Netflix as easily as video from Comcast — or even video on your Aunt Edna’s website.

But in recent years, this principle, dubbed “network neutrality,” has been challenged by the service providers. Most notoriously, Comcast inhibited some of its customers from using file-sharing applications by deliberately slowing access to those services.

In response to those challenges, the FCC, which regulates telecommunications services in this country, put in place its Open Internet rules, which sought to explicitly codify the principles of net neutrality … //

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