Perspective: Kirton McConkie Law Blog

A Big Win for Internet Consumers

On June 14, 2016 the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its ruling in United States Telecom Association, et al v. Federal Communications Commission and United States of America. The result is a huge win for internet consumers of all kinds. The Court has specifically defined high speed internet service as a utility, allowing for greater protections for web consumers. 

The case was about rules applying to the doctrine known as “net neutrality,” which is a legal theory prohibiting broadband companies from blocking or slowing the delivery of internet content to consumers in favor of their own content. In other words, without net neutrality principals, large media companies who also provide internet service can prioritize their content above companies which do not provide internet service – like Google or Apple or Netflix. 

The Court, by upholding net neutrality principles, has effectively said that all internet traffic must be treated the same. In essence, as long as you procure the right broad speeds, your Netflix movies should stop buffering. 

 As a side note, networks in the municipal broadband world have thought the issue of net neutrality to be somewhat of a red herring, due solely to the fact that large incumbent providers have been so reluctant to upgrade their internet services. By providing gigabit or faster speeds, municipal broadband providers have long since argued (including remarks before the US Congress in 2005) that net neutrality is an arcane principle made necessary solely by the lack of availability of sufficient broadband - when you increase the supply sufficiently, there is no need for such principals. Nevertheless, until gigabit or beyond becomes a household principle throughout the nation, concepts like net neutrality are necessary to protect consumers. Thank goodness the Court of Appeals has seen the wisdom of this course and upheld the freedom of the internet today.