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Net Neutrality Matters: Internet Is a Utility, Not a Luxury, Court Rules

We the people need the web, according to a federal appellate court decision issued today. Specifically, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that strict regulation of broadband companies by the Federal Communications Commission is legal because broadband access is a utility, not a luxury, reports The New York Times.

In a 184-page decision, the court concluded that the internet is a tool for all and, as such, subject to strict regulation, unlike luxury items which are just for a few. It is no longer optional but integral to life in our society, kind of like water and electricity. Let's consider the decision and its significance to all of us.

Net Neutrality

The decision issued today is considered a win for proponents of net neutrality, or the principle that all content and users of the web should be treated equally, not favored or blocked based on content or status. With Internet Service Providers classified as common carriers, they are subject to strict regulation that will allow this approach, an approach seen as favorable for consumers.

If the internet is not a luxury but a utility, then the government can regulate broadband access like it does water and electricity. That is what it decided to do in 2015. The FCC created rules regulating broadband like a utility and cable, telecom, and wireless internet providers sued to overturn. The challengers said that the regulations were too restrictive and over-reached, but it seems now that they will have to make a temporary peace at least with their important place in our lives.

"After a decade of debate and legal battles, today's ruling affirms the commission's ability to enforce the strongest possible internet protections -- both on fixed and mobile networks -- that will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future," said Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC.

Slow Down!

Although this was a big win, it may be too soon for the FCC to declare victory or predict the future of the web. The challengers to these rules have fought long and hard and have signaled that they will continue to do so.

In fact, The New York Times reports that AT&T has already said it will continue to fight this to the end. "We have always expected this issue to be decided by the Supreme Court, and we look forward to participating in that appeal," said David McAtee II, the senior executive vice president and general counsel for AT&T. Meanwhile, Ars Technica reports that Internet Service Providers are also planning to ask Congress to review the rules "to ensure a regulatory framework that provides certainty for consumers, investors, and innovators."

Battles and Wars

So the broadband war is not over, and today's decision simply means the people and the government won a battle. But the more time passes, the more likely it is that we -- all of us consumers -- will become more conscious of the concepts at play in this case and their significance in our daily lives. That is to say, with time we will likely be decreasingly neutral on the topic of net neutrality.

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