Last week’s announcement that the District Court of Appeals struck down the non-discrimination and no-blocking rules of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) 2010 Order on “Preserving the Free and Open Internet” is great news for the Internet, in spite of what others are saying.
Critics of the decision have lamented that Internet service providers (ISPs) will now have the ability to cut off websites from their networks at will and that this will hinder innovation. This is quite debatable though, given that the FCC retained substantial regulatory power under Section 706 within the same court ruling. The court also retained a disclosure provision, requiring ISPs to inform their subscribers about any discriminatory pricing arrangements.
Either way, Wayne Crews has stated it best, “freedom to vary pricing and service in complex multimedia are essential to creating the next generations of networks, which can’t happen optimally without such fundamental property rights.”
The reason why net neutrality was bad was because it did not respect the ability of ISPs to implement pricing regimes as needed. Evidence has shown that Internet service has continued to improve without net neutrality being enforced.
But, let’s say that net neutrality does lead to websites being slowed down or blocked from networks. Consumers still possess the ability to circumvent such discriminatory behaviors. New structures of the Internet known as mesh networks are being developed around the world right now. These networks connect individual computers on a peer-to-peer basis to establish connectivity.
Mesh networks have been utilized in the past during natural disasters and by activists living under totalitarian regimes to connect computer networks that have been cut off from the internet. Granted, mesh networks may never be true substitutes for traditional, centralized ISPs. However, they are an example of the market offering alternatives to consumers to satisfy their needs and desires.
As such, the court’s decision on the FCC 2010 order is not a detriment to consumers. Rather, it will allow ISPs to structure prices to allow for great investment and development of infrastructure and services. Even if ISPs become overly discriminatory in pricing consumers will still have the ability to circumvent such practices by developing and adopting new technologies themselves. What consumers should be concerned about is if and when the FCC will attempt to similar or worse regulations again. We must remain vigilant against such anti-consumer regulations.