The Death of Net Neutrality?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for DC has dealt a blow to net neutrality, as a concept: it has ruled against the Federal Communications Commission in its legal battle with Comcast, essentially setting the precedent that Internet providers can differentiate between different kinds of traffic, restricting or charging more for heavier use of popular, media-rich sites (e.g., Hulu and YouTube) that occupy more bandwidth.

Net neutrality has occupied a vague space in the popular discourse--the term itself is so abstract that a lot of people don't seem to know what it is. It's the idea that traffic should be treated the same--and today's decision appears to pose an existential threat. If the FCC can't tell Internet Service Providers not to treat different sources of traffic differently, this would free ISPs to treat traffic according to their own, profit-driven liking, removing some of the government's power over the Internet. And implicit in support for net neutrality is an idea that government should be able to control the Internet for the public good, because the Internet is so vital to everyone.

President Obama pledged his support for net neutrality as a presidential candidate; Republican senators voiced opposition to the administration's ideas about net neutrality when Obama appointed a net neutrality supporter as chairman of the FCC.

Given how vital the Internet really is to everyone, and that net neutrality involves a burgeoning intersection of government, law, and ubiquitous technology that dominates how many of us live our lives, this smells like a drama that will play out either in the Supreme Court or in Congress, where lobbyists who have been working on net neutrality issues will be unleashed in full on the poor souls of the House Energy and Commerce Committee if it ever looks like the political will to confront net neutrality head on has been worked up.

I am no expert on net neutrality, but some people are. The Atlantic Wire's John Hudson has reactions from some informed voices, as the fallout of the court's ruling is being debated around the Web.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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