In what could be a landmark ruling, a federal court has blocked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from imposing a network neutrality constraint on internet service providers who own the network they administer. There are serious issues of Constitutionality involved in the ruling, and net neutrality advocates say any move away from absolute neutrality would be a violation of the First Amendment protection of press freedom, and possibly of the freedom to assemble.
According to the Huffington Post:
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.
Supporters of network neutrality, including the FCC chairman, have argued that the policy is necessary to prevent broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against certain Web sites and online services, such as Internet phone programs or software that runs in a Web browser. Advocates contend there is precedent: Nondiscrimination rules have traditionally applied to so-called “common carrier” networks that serve the public, from roads and highways to electrical grids and telephone lines.
It is not yet clear whether the ruling will mean that Comcast or other ISPs could in fact create stratified internet service, with tiered download speeds and/or priority bandwidth for paying content providers, but the ruling does suggest the FCC will not be able to intervene to stop such activity, if a provider does so.
At risk is the right of access of internet end-users to the content they seek, and of content creators to be able to capitalize on the global information-distribution platform of the world wide web.