Court rulings often bring clarity to thorny policy issues — but a mixed decision yesterday on the FCC's handling of net neutrality rules only deepens a bitter internet policy debate that's been raging in Washington for over a decade, Axios' Kim Hart reports.
An appeals court upheld parts of the FCC's move to wipe net neutrality rules from the books, but overturned the commission’s attempt to prevent states from implementing their own rules. The court also directed the agency to rethink how removing the protections would impact public safety and low-income consumers.
Why it matters: While the ruling allowed both sides to claim some level of victory, it also opens up 50 potential new fights over state rules.
Here's why this next phase of the net neutrality fight could play out differently than in the past.
Silicon Valley is distracted: 10 years ago, when companies like Google, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon were just starting to build Washington operations, net neutrality was a major focus of their efforts. They advocated for equal treatment of all online traffic, arguing that the broadband providers that own internet pipes should not be allowed to slow down, block or charge extra for competitors' content.
- Today, net neutrality is the least of Silicon Valley's worries. Tech companies are facing much larger regulatory threats to their businesses — ranging from antitrust investigations spurred by calls to break them up, to proposals to end a "safe harbor" provision that has protected them from liability for user-contributed content.
- The biggest tech platforms also don't necessarily need the net neutrality protections they once championed. Google's YouTube, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon, for example, have so much market leverage that they don't need the government's protection when negotiating with the major ISPs like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter.
- Yes, but: Tech workers still care deeply about net neutrality, and the next generation of internet platforms like Vimeo and Etsy will likely be pushing for rules.
Power of streaming: Video streaming services are much more robust and popular now, which may change the business dynamic between the tech and telecom companies.
- Trying to compete with the tech giants, ISPs have launched their own streaming services.
- That means that, in some cases, the telecom giants will be arguing for dual business interests — for control over their own broadband networks and against discriminatory behavior by other network operators. (But, the telcos' own streaming services are still relatively small compared to the tech industry's properties.)
- Other new streaming services, like those being launched by Apple and Disney, could bring those companies off the sidelines of the debate.
Fight moves to the states — and Congress: The court revived states' ability to pass their own rules governing how broadband providers treat web traffic within their borders, opening the doors for some progressive states to implement rules that go even further than the Obama-era rules that the Trump FCC reversed.
Kim has more here.