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'Open Internet' court ruling is a blow for consumers

Providers might charge more for Netflix, Pandora, and other data-intensive services

Published: January 2014
Surfing the Web could be a frustrating—and pricier—experience—without an 'Open Internet.'

A recent court ruling could have a major impact on the Internet as we know it. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit  struck down the Federal Communication Commission's “Open Internet” rules. The ruling came in a lawsuit brought against the Federal Communications Commission by Verizon in 2011.

These so-called "net neutrality” rules, created by the FCC in 2010, were designed to ensure that service providers should treat all content, sites, and applications equally and shouldn’t discriminate against certain traffic based on its source, destination, or message.

While a diverse range of stakeholders supported the FCC’s net neutrality efforts, most in the telecommunications industry did not. Verizon’s legal challenge wasn’t the only resistance that the rules have faced. Before this most recent development, the House of Representatives also voted in favor of a resolution to strike down the rules.

There’s a lot at stake here for consumers, who are continually living more of their lives on the Internet. As consolidation continues in the telecommunications market, this decision gives a few cable and phone providers a lot of control in deciding what users can and can’t access on the Internet.

Without net neutrality rules in place, these providers are free to give preferential treatment to the content they profit from—whether it’s their own or content that comes through arrangements they make with outside content providers. Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, highlighted this concern when NBC (a media/content company) moved to purchase Comcast (an Internet service provider).

And there’s nothing to prevent service providers from passing costs on to consumers.

While the court’s decision struck a serious blow to the effort to keep the Internet accessible and competitive, net neutrality isn't gone yet. The panel of judges reaffirmed the FCC’s authority in principle to regulate broadband Internet service. The ball is now back in the FCC’s court to create and implement new rules to ensure a level playing field for everyone on the web.

Consumers Union has long supported the FCC’s efforts on net neutrality and has worked at keep them in place. We believe that the Internet should remain as free and open as it has been from it inception.

Now is the time for the FCC to take action to restore the balance between consumers and big business on the Internet. We are committed to continuing our efforts to work with regulators and lawmakers to ensure that consumers can access and enjoy all the Internet has to offer.

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

Read other installments of our Policy & Action feature.

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