In case of Verizon vs. FCC, is net neutrality the real loser?

An federal appeals court has ruled against the FCC in a high-profile case brought by Verizon. 

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    Federal Communications Commission Chairman Thomas is pictured at a town hall meeting in Oakland, California, on Jan. 9, 2014.
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A federal appeals court has ruled against the Federal Communications Committee in a decision that could affect all Internet users. 

At issue in the case, Verizon vs. FCC, is the concept of net neutrality – the idea that all information on the Web should be equally privileged. The FCC had previously established a set of rules on net neutrality and "The Open Internet"; this week's ruling strikes down those rules. (The full decision is here, for those with a strong stomach for legal texts.) The FCC says it is considering appealing to the Supreme Court. 

As Edward Wyatt of the New York Times has noted, it is now conceivable that Internet service providers, such as Verizon, will be able to "offer Internet content providers — ESPN or Facebook, for example — faster service to deliver their content to consumers, at a price." 

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In a statement, Verizon Wireless said the decision would "allow more room for innovation, and consumers will have more choices to determine for themselves how they access and experience the Internet. Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet that provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content when, where, and how they want." 

The ruling will not change "consumers’ ability to access and use the Internet as they do now," the company promised.

But advocates for an open Internet aren't so sure. Writing at GigaOM, Stacey Higginbotham has argued that the rights of Internet users, post-Verizon vs. FCC, would almost certainly undergo a transformation – and not for the better. 

"Instead of treating all traffic flowing over their broadband pipes equally, Internet service providers can now start making deals that could prioritize some content over other traffic," Ms. Higginbotham writes. "And based on the options facing the FCC and the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s previous statements, I think there is a credible threat that a double-sided market for bandwidth will emerge."

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