Goodbye Net Neutrality

A U.S. federal court has established that the FCC can’t enforce net neutrality, effectively allowing internet service providers to filter traffic. From the Associated Press:

A federal court threw the future of Internet regulations and U.S. broadband expansion plans into doubt Tuesday with a far-reaching decision that went against the Federal Communications Commission.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC lacks authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks. That was a big victory for Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable company, which had challenged the FCC’s authority to impose such “network neutrality” obligations on broadband providers.

TIME writer Steven James Snyder notes that there’s no reason why this couldn’t escalate to tiered internet services:

The FCC could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, though its quite uncertain that the high court would agree to hear the case, nor how they would fall on the Net neutrality issue. (Many Net neutrality advocates actually believe that a 2005 Supreme Court decision, which upheld the FCC’s deregulation of broadband, already gave too much freedom and control to the Internet service providers).

And then there are those who see a tiered Internet culture rapidly approaching on the horizon. Imagine a scenario in which your Internet access paralleled your access to cable television. For your basic fee, you get access to most basic web sites. But now Comcast can restrict which sites you access, and could charge a premium rate for premium access.

I, for one, think this scenario isn’t just possible, but likely. Providers have been fighting for some time to create preferential pricing models, to get the more aggressive Internet users to pay more for unlimited data. And after Tuesday’s decision, if I was in charge of Comcast, I’d already be devising ways to divvy up access, brainstorming how to squeeze more bucks out of more users. You want YouTube? Then order tier 2. Hulu? Tier 3? BitTorrents? Tier 4.

Forget philosophy or ideals; in an unregulated market, it just makes good business sense.