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Net Neutrality Wins Big In Appeals Court

Judges declare internet is a utility, not a luxury

Net neutrality supporters at FCC headquarters (Getty Images)

Depending on whether you’re a broadband provider or a human who uses the internet, yesterday’s news may provoke a very different reaction. In an historic (and sure-to-be-disputed) ruling, a federal appeals court upheld net neutrality, essentially ruling that the internet is a vital utility for all. It’s bummer news for internet providers, but not so bad for the rest of us.

Net neutrality rests on the idea that unfettered internet access is a consumer right, akin to electricity and water. This means that, say, your Amazon Prime streaming could not be slowed by a capricious broadband provider, based on its high bandwidth. Under net neutrality, the internet does not have “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” based on how much consumers and businesses are willing to shell out. Everything is equal.

This contentious battle has been simmering for years, with periodic flare-ups in the courts. In early 2015 the FCC declared a firm, pro-net neutrality position. Internet service providers, naturally, went ape, using their immense financial and political clout to fight the FCC in court. Their (somewhat specious) argument is that allowing free market economics to sort out broadband will allow its providers to grow and flourish. And somehow the fruits of these laissez-faire economics will trickle down to us consumers.

The battle here is likely less cut-and-dry than it seems; some argue that huge companies like Google and Facebook already receive de facto fast lanes, and that net neutrality isn’t nearly as vital as some may imagine (net neutrality proponents started camping out in Washington many months before the FCC took a stand). Still, yesterday’s decision was certainly pro-consumer; we can now debate how profoundly we’ll feel its effects.

Surely this fight isn’t over, however. Broadband providers wasted no time at all to fire back at the ruling. “We have always expected this issue to be decided by the Supreme Court and we look forward to participating in that appeal,” David McAtee II, the senior executive vice president and general counsel for AT&T, told the New York Times yesterday.

It would not be surprising to watch this battle escalate in coming months. But for now, a victory.

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