Net neutrality: Mostly dead or all dead?

This week's court ruling struck a blow to Net neutrality rules, but debate still surrounds the FCC's role in regulating broadband

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NPR, commenting on this week's ruling, noted the stifling effect not only on Web content, but on Internet startups as well:

Net neutrality advocates fear that if the federal government stops enforcing rules to keep the pipelines free and open, then certain companies will be able to get greater access to Internet users. That, they say, creates a system of haves and have-nots -- the richest companies could get access to a wider swath of Internet users, for example, and that could prevent the next Google from getting off the ground. Judge David Tatel, who was part of the three-judge panel, said that striking down Net neutrality could have negative effects on consumers.

After this ruling, ISPs will be eager to put up tollbooths and negotiate deals for fast/slow lanes on the Internet, but some argue this is not necessarily a bad thing. InfoWorld's Robert X. Cringely decried the hot air inflating arguments over the court's ruling and argued that Net neutrality has "weakened infrastructure investment, as evidenced by the fact that the United States is in something like 25th [actually, more like 33rd] place when it comes to average bandwidth to the home, right behind Antarctica."

While conceding that the ruling will undoubtedly give way to throttling of Web content, Cringely believes "it'll also bring healthier Internet performance and perhaps more serious dollars devoted to laying fiber to the home."

Seeing as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast already collect several hundred billion dollars in revenue each year, it's hard to put much faith in that argument. And faith -- "Who do you trust?" -- is the crux of the debate.

Venezia, noting that "U.S. taxpayers directly and indirectly funded a significant amount of the cost of constructing these very networks that the carriers want to turn into pay-per-view networks," warns readers not to believe carriers' promises not to hurt customers with changes they make now that Net neutrality is gone: "Don't believe them. They have a long history of making promises they don't keep."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a blog post after the ruling, acknowledged the anxiety on both sides of the Net neutrality question, while assuaging neither:

I am committed to maintaining our networks as engines for economic growth, test beds for innovative services and products, and channels for all forms of speech protected by the First Amendment. We will consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans.

Can Wheeler, an ex-cable-company lobbyist, exercise his agency's authority to make sure broadband providers operate in the public interest, or will Net neutrality prove in the long run to be "all dead"? Back to the words of Miracle Max: "With 'all dead,' there's usually only one thing you can do -- go through his clothes and look for loose change." If the FCC fails to act, it's consumers' pockets that are likely to get rifled through.

This story, "Net neutrality: Mostly dead or all dead?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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