Court sides with public in net neutrality ruling

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The internet was invented with a grant from the Department of Defense in the 1960s, was popularized by invention of the World Wide Web protocols in the 1980s, and wasn't completely opened to commercial activity until 1995.

Originally carried by copper phone lines, it's increasingly transmitted wirelessly and through fiberoptic lines.

Internet providers have spent billions to upgrade their networks, and their stockholders naturally expect a fair return on their investment.

But consumers view internet service the same way they view electricity -- they expect it to appear when they flip a switch, and they expect it to work whether it's powering a basic lightbulb or a room-size flat-screen HD television.

A federal appeals court sided with consumers Tuesday, upholding the Federal Communication Commission's "net neutrality" rules, forcing internet providers to treat all content equally, even if it comes from a competitor.

That applies equally to internet provided over phone lines, television cable or from cellular towers.

Certain consumers may not be happy, however, if they lose favorable treatment from companies like Comcast or T-Mobile which let you stream video without having it apply against their data use.

The FCC lost previous court decisions about net neutrality, but got a boost when President Obama urged it to use it to protect consumers.

Comcast, Verizon and AT&T responded that such rules will stifle innovation and their ability to invest in broadband infrastructure.

Like most things in this world, there's no free lunch when it comes to internet service, and private companies have stepped up to the plate when given the opportunity to provide a service with the expectation of profit.

That's not always the case in rural areas where the thin population makes it more difficult to find enough customers to make major infrastructure upgrades viable.

The issue is far from settled, and the FCC will likely have to fight back at least two more appeals before it is.

But it's true that the internet, like electricity, is increasingly seen as a utility that may have to be provided by a public-private partnership.

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