According to an article in Wired, net neutrality is being threatened by an impending decision by the DC Circuit court, apparently the highest court in the land second only to the Supreme Court.
Net neutrality is the doctrine that ISPs like Comcast and AT&T may not play favorites with some sites over others, and that they may not block certain sites for any reason. This keeps the internet largely free, at least in the ideological sense.
Before net neutrality was firmly established, large ISPs had been contemplating—and even implementing—a plan to charge certain sites fees for bandwidth. Without net neutrality, there was a chance that sites like Google, which nearly everyone uses, would have to procure financial arrangements with the large ISPs in order to make sure user access to their service was unstoppered.
In the internet world, this makes a huge difference. Internet startups rely on quick load times to bolster confidence among users and ensure they have the best chance of developing a loyal user base. If access to their sites is slow or inconsistent, it is less likely they would be able to compete with their competitors. A repeal of net neutrality could change the landscape of the internet, creating ISP-operated “toll booths” front-ending the most popular sites, or creating pot-hole filled dirt roads to sites that, for whatever reason, are not willing or able to develop cooperative agreements with the biggest ISPs. The Wired article explains what would happen if the DC Circuit shoots down the current net neutrality laws:
The implications of such a decision would be profound. Web and mobile companies will live or die not on the merits of their technology and design, but on the deals they can strike with AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and others. This means large phone and cable companies will be able to “shakedown” startups and established companies in every sector, requiring payment for reliable service. In fact, during the oral argument in the current case, Verizon’s lawyer said, “I’m authorized to state from my client today that but for these [FCC] rules we would be exploring those types of arrangements.”
This is more than just a financial situation. It is obviously designed to make more money for the ISPs to the detriment of internet users. But the ideological possibilities are what most trouble me. If net neutrality is struck down, ISPs will be allowed to choke or cut off site access for any reason whatsoever. This could quickly become politically important. The civil government itself could strike agreements with ISPs in order to silently remove or neutralize currently free internet sources of dissenting news. Our own site, which regularly posts articles critical of the political establishment, could see a marked decrease in usability.
Unfortunately, there is little we can do to stop this development. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see if even the last shreds of our freedoms are sold off to the highest bidder.