(Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 24--Imagine if the Internet operated like cable TV.
Popular websites could emulate top-rated programmers that demand higher fees and additional channels from cable companies, crowding out competitors and driving up consumer costs. Internet providers, meanwhile, could adopt tiered pricing models with popular content pushed up the pyramid.
The pay-to-play approach was prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet regulation.
The regulation, adopted in 2010, mandated "net neutrality" -- effectively meaning equal and unfettered broadband access for all lawful content providers. The rule is consistent with the way the Internet has operated since the World Wide Web's debut in the 1990s.
Last week, a federal appeals court in Washington threw out the FCC regulation.
On a 2-1 vote, the court sided with AT&T and Verizon, which wants to charge content providers for access, or enhanced access, to their broadband networks.
Any added costs, the companies argue, would be borne by content providers, and consumers would benefit. For example, Netflix might pay extra to ensure that its video streams aren't delayed by congestion on broadband networks, or an e-commerce company such as Amazon might pay a premium to ensure rapid processing of sales.
In the cable TV world, however, it's the content providers who emerged as big gorillas, using viewership as leverage to demand payments from cable services. Will that happen with Internet content providers?
Maybe, but net neutrality advocates are especially concerned that innovations will be squeezed out because new companies can't afford to buy preferred treatment.
They also note that high-speed broadband in the United States already lags far behind Europe and Asia, where stricter government regulation has forced providers to upgrade.
The more lenient U.S. approach to Internet regulation was the key factor in the 2-1 ruling by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Rather than treating it as a common carrier, like telephone service, the FCC opted to leave the particulars of broadband service to market competition. As a result, the court ruled, the commission can't pick those aspects of the market that it wants to regulate.
The decision invites the FCC to reconsider its approach and treat broadband providers as common carriers, in turn clearing the way for restoration of net neutrality rules.
The FCC should do so -- not because markets and competition are bad, but because there isn't much competition in the broadband market.
More than three-quarters of Americans have a single choice for broadband service -- their local cable TV company. Lacking competition, or regulatory mandates, these companies have shown little interest in developing the high-speed fiber-optic networks that are common elsewhere in the industrialized world.
The United States needs to catch up, and the FCC can lead the way.
(c)2014 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)
Visit The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.) at www.pressdemocrat.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services