Net neutrality overturned: Will Netflix have to pay your provider to stream your movies?

Net neutrality overturned: Will Netflix have to pay your provider to stream your movies?

Update: Comcast will continue to abide by the FCC's Open Internet Rules despite the court's decision. See below for details.

A three-judge federal appeals court on Tuesday in Washington D.C. overturned "net neutrality" rules implemented by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Those rules heretofore prevented internet access providers like Comcast and Verizon from favoring some types of information over another across their networks, according to GigaOM:

The court's ruling is a game-changer because it upsets the FCC's current practice of requiring broadband internet providers to act akin to "common carriers." In plain English, this means that they have had to behave in a similar way to phone companies and not give special preference to one type of call (or traffic) over another, even though the FCC's authority to regulate the broadband providers was not clear cut.

Right now, the bits of data coming to your computer from don't have any higher or lower priority on your network than the data comprising a streaming movie from Netflix, or data from the New York Times web site. That's what net neutrality is, in a nutshell. That's what the FCC rules were there to enforce. The court overturned those rules.

This paves the way for Internet access providers to prioritize big bandwidth users by expecting them to pay to play - big companies can fork over money to make sure their data is prioritized over everyone else's. Unfortunately, that could be a real innovation killer, because it also presents the possibility that smaller businesses without the ability to pay for that prioritization won't be able to compete.

Net neutrality isn't a new issue - it's been openly discussed for the last decade and a half, as public internet access has grown from a curiosity to an essential form of communication. But public policy on the issue had been lacking on it until late 2010, when the FCC issued a rule called Preserving the Open Internet. It's points II and III of that document - "No blocking" and "No unreasonable discrimination" - that the judges said don't pass muster.

If Congress writes new laws to give the FCC additional authority in this matter, this could change. The appellate panel left that possibility open. It's also entirely likely that now the case has run through the appeals court that it'll head upstairs to the Supreme Court.

Update: Comcast will stay the course, according to a statement. Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast's vice president of government communications, told iMore: "Comcast will continue to be under the FCCs Open Internet Rules as agreed to in the NBCUniversal transaction order."

Update 2: David L. Cohen, Comcast executive vice president, offered a longer statement later in the day: “Comcast has consistently supported the Commission’s Open Internet Order as an appropriate balance of protection of consumer interests while not interfering with companies’ network management and engineering decisions. As a result, we agreed in the NBCUniversal Transaction Order to abide by the Open Internet rules for seven years even if the rules were modified by the courts. We remain comfortable with that commitment because we have not – and will not – block our customers’ ability to access lawful Internet content, applications, or services. Comcast’s customers want an open and vibrant Internet, and we are absolutely committed to deliver that experience. We are committed to work with Chairman Wheeler and the Commission to play a constructive role in finding an appropriate regulatory balance going forward that will continue to allow the Internet to flourish. Given the DC Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the FCC has jurisdiction in the broadband arena to preserve and facilitate the innovation that has driven the Internet, we are optimistic that the Commission can accomplish this result while avoiding inappropriate common carrier regulation.”

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Peter Cohen

Mac Managing Editor of iMore and weekend Apple Product Professional at a local independent Apple reseller. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

Net neutrality overturned: Will Netflix have to pay your provider to stream your movies?


Don't they say "Well, you can get Google Fiber"? I really think that his bank accounts, and everything they own should be public record, so we can see their sponsors.

If I owned Netflix, I wouldn't pay them a penny. I'd say "We'd love to get you better quality, but as the ISPs want us to pay them twice, and we'd have to raise costs. Call your ISP and complain." Or something like that.

Edited to fix punctuation.

This, in one word, sucks. So now they are giving internet providers the ability to both prioritize my data as well as block my data to whatever sites they deem appropriate? Geez, if this crap keeps up China will have a more open internet than the USA!

Slight typo - "could be an innovation killer" should read "definitely @)$6*^ will kill innovation, crowd out smaller players and give free reign for large players to lumber along at glacial pace."

On the back side of things, maybe improved data handling protocols and codecs will be created to maximize data streaming so companies can avoid having to pay for priority.

Seriously what happened to checks and balances?! These stupid judges just keep overturning and creating new legislature whenever they feel like no matter what the people say or have already voted for. I know nobody voted for this but still the FCC went through the proper channels to get this hashed out.

Sent from the iMore App

This is precisely what checks and balances are about. The court is checking the FCC's ability to act beyond the authority that Congress has granted it. The court in this case is not creating law, merely acting in its role to constrain the Executive Branch to its constitutional limits. If you want net neutrality to be the law of the land, convince Congress to pass it and the President to sign it. That is the proper channel.

It is time that congress and the FCC realize that the tipping point has passed. The internet, while still a wonderful porn tool, is actually a critical communications tool for businesses and individuals (many abandoning copper wire) and more and more an extension of business networks with the use of cloud services. There is essentially no competition when it comes to ISPs and therefore no market incentive to improve services and reduce costs. Comcast et al lobby very hard to prevent municipalities from creating their own backbones and ISPs, even as they were granted federal handouts for expansion over 15 years ago with a promise to bring fiber to the door step. They want to retain their monopoly and continue to provide moderate to shoddy quality for shockingly high rates. By allowing the ISPs to create inventive new models to exsanguinate its customers through tiered access, bandwidth limits and neglected access they are in no way acting in the best interest of the private consumer, the larger business community or national security. Quality ISP access should be as ubiquitous as water and power and the dying landline connection. These are the basics for establishing solid foundation for economic, social and educational growth. Catering to 3 or 4 business's private interests for more profit does not help the US remain competitive and secure.

The U.S. legal system is broken beyond repair. It is almost to the point where we need to start over. Deep pockets and no integrity run rampant within our federal government (exec, legis, and judic).
There is no way a provider should be able to prioritize the data on their networks. If this is lawful, then there should be a law that the providers must make this known. And there has to be a Internet provider in every locality that does not prioritize, so the consumer may have a choice.

If your greatest concern is whether or not you can still get netflix, then you do not deserve the freedoms that have been undermined today.