Should the Internet be regulated?

By Christopher B. Daly 

And, if so, for whose benefit?

Those were some of the issues swirling in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington as lawyers argued over a case that could have far-reaching impacts on the future of Internet access and the Web.

On one side is the FCC, which is asserting that it has the power to regulate the Internet just as it regulates over forms of electronic communication like radio, TV, and telephone.

On the other side is Verizon, a major internet service provider (ISP), which says the FCC has never been granted that power by Congress and cannot just assert it because it wants to.

A major point of conflict: can ISPs be forced to treat all their customers the same when it comes to upload/download speeds, pricing, and the like? Or, are they free to devise their own pricing structures that penalize heavy users of bandwidth?

If the ISPs have that right, how would they use that power? Would they impose high rates on start-ups like Zipcar and end up thwarting innovation?

Here’s today’s version in the Times.

The takeaway:

Consumers could experience a significant change in the Internet if the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit strikes down the F.C.C.’s requirement, called the Open Internet Order.

Currently, companies that offer goods or services online do not have to pay anything to get their content to consumers. If Internet service providers started charging fees to reach customers more quickly, large, wealthy companies like Google and Facebook would have an edge, the F.C.C. says. The government argued that such a tiered service could cause small, start-up companies with little money to pay for their access — the next Google orFacebook, perhaps — to wither on the vine.

In any case, the added costs would be likely to be passed on to consumers.

The case, which is expected to be decided late this year or early next year, has attracted enormous interest. On Monday, telecommunications lawyers began lining up to get into the courtroom two and a half hours before the session was scheduled to start. The session was standing room only, with many others left to listen in an adjacent overflow room.

To be continued. . .

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