Net neutrality rules go into effect today despite appeals

FILE - In this March 17, 2015 file photo, Federal Communications Commisison (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on net neutrality on Capitol Hill in Washington. Wheeler is proposing that the FCC expand a phone subsidy program for the poor to include Internet access. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke, File)

NEW YORK (MEDIA GENERAL/AP) – Rules that treat the Internet like a public utility and prevent companies from blocking or slowing down online traffic have gone into effect today, June 12, 2015, after a federal appeals court refused to delay them.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said it won’t postpone implementation of the net neutrality regulations as AT&T, Verizon and other companies continue to fight against them.

In February, the FCC agreed in a 3-2 vote to new rules that prohibit service providers from blocking or slowing Internet speeds, stating the providers must act in the “public’s interest” when supplying Internet service and must refrain from “unjust or unreasonable” business practices.

Proponents of net neutrality argue regulation is needed to prevent Internet service companies like Verizon and AT&T from striking secret deals with content providers such as Netflix, Google or Twitter to supply them with faster data speeds that could shut out slower competition and tilt the market.

Cable and wireless companies that object to net neutrality rules argue the regulations violate federal law and are far too complicated to follow.

Timeline: The rise of net neutrality

The argument over net neutrality stems from a 2002 FCC decision to deregulate cable modems from other Internet service providers (ISP) with hopes of letting the market sort out the need for innovation and maintaining low costs to consumers. The term “net neutrality” allegedly was coined by Tim Wu, a law professor who published a review on net neutrality and the potential for broadband providers to yield power over web content providers.

The discussion intensified in March 2005, when the FCC chose to fine Madison River Communications, a North Carolina-based ISP, for preventing its subscribers from using a voice over IP service that MRC considered a competitor.

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the FCC’s decision to deregulate cable providers, the FCC laid out the basic premise of net neutrality laws, upsetting the country’s largest telecommunications companies who felt threatened by Internet startups that were stealing their customers while using their web services without cost. Former SBC Communications CEO Edward Whitacre Jr. told Blooomberg in 2005: “They don’t have any fiber out there. They don’t have any wires. They don’t have anything. They use my lines for free – and that’s bull.”

Whitacre’s comments, however, illustrate the fears of net neutrality proponents: Without regulation, ISPs can demand payment from every content providers to maintain an efficient web presence, potentially making ISPs giant middlemen in the world of e-commerce.

In 2007, Comcast made waves for slowing down service to Bittorrent, which filed a complaint with the FCC. After an investigation, the FCC ordered Comcast to stop discriminating against Bittorrent, although that ruling later was overturned by the D.C. Circuit Court that called into question the legality of net neutrality.

In the years to follow, the FCC petitioned and passed other forms of regulation that were tossed around by the courts, allowing ISPs to provide premium services to willing customers, while others complained of data caps being placed on services.

In 2014, the FCC announced new plans to formulate net neutrality regulations, and in February 2015, the FCC passed their latest set of net neutrality laws.

Is net neutrality settled?

Short answer: No.

The country’s top Internet service providers still have a pending appeal in the courts, which continues to keep this legislation in the air.

However, the main issue, which has been a struggle all along for the FCC, is how long net neutrality laws will be effective before changing technology makes the laws ineffective. The technology advancements of wireless communication threw a monkey wrench into the process for which the FCC regulates its utilities. There’s no reason to think that cannot or will not happen again.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story

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