Relax, Internet Will Survive This Net Neutrality Ruling
FCC still has the ability to keep checks on ISPs, say analysts
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 16, 2014 1:59 PM CST
A sign outside the Comcast Center, left, is shown in Philadelphia.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

(Newser) – Much of the reaction to a federal court's decision to gut net neutrality has been of the we're-doomed variety, with critics worried that Internet service providers such as Verizon will be free to mess up our ability to stream movies and surf the web the way we want. But another camp is urging everyone to calm down because the FCC still has the potential to keep ISPs in check:

  • Yes, the court "vacated the heart of the FCC’s open Internet rules," writes law professor John Blevins in the Washington Post, but it did not curb "the FCC’s ability to act in the future. Specifically, it concluded that the FCC could regulate Internet providers under a statute known as Section 706, which authorizes the FCC to take various steps to promote broadband deployment." In fact, "the court may have handed the FCC—and the public—a victory that goes well beyond network neutrality."

  • Much of the decision deals with how the FCC classifies ISPs, as "information services" rather than "telecommunication services," writes Jon Terbush at the Week. "It's not that the FCC can't impose anti-discrimination regulations on ISPs; it's that they can't do so unless they classify ISPs as 'telecommunications services,' which would then subject them to common carrier regulations." The agency could change the classification, as many reformers have long suggested.
  • But "even failing a common-carriers declaration, net neutrality isn’t buried," writes Tim Fernholz at Quartz. "Both its opponents and proponents believe the court decision has unintended consequences that will empower the FCC to enforce the essentials of net neutrality without re-classifying ISPs. Even if they aren’t considered common carriers, the FCC is empowered to regulate them under a different statute." In short, Verizon shouldn't celebrate just yet.