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Net Neutrality in Effect For Now, But the Battle Continues

After a federal court rejected attempts by cable and phone companies to stop net neutrality on Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission’s plan for new Internet rules went into effect. Under the new rules, the FCC can assert extra authority over the Internet to establish equal access to Internet speeds and Web sites.

Companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have claimed that the rules are beyond the FCC’s powers, and challenged them in court. A full hearing on the issue is scheduled for later this year.

“Starting Friday [June 12], there will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair and open. Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes and other efforts to come between consumers and the Internet are now things of the past,” said FCC chair Tom Wheeler. “The rules also give broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks.”

The broadband industry will now be under the FCC’s so-called Title II powers for the next few months at least, as both sides prepare their final arguments.

Little Change for Now

We reached out to independent technology analyst Jeff Kagan, who told us that things won’t change much while the issue is still being argued — for instance, videos won’t stream any faster. “I really don’t foresee much change for consumers in these early days,” says Kagan. “Nothing customers will notice, anyway.”

The ruling has two major parts. The first says that ISPs now fall under the category of telecommunications services, meaning they are bound by the regulations of Title II, which provides the FCC the authority to regulate them as a public utility. This could have major implications on the future of the industry since it is at the core of the appeal by the ISPs.

The second major part of the ruling creates so-called bright-line rules that affect a consumer’s ability to access content over the Internet. Although those rules now go into effect — and the denial of Thursday’s stay request means they’re likely to eventually pass — observers say they could get lost in the appeals process.

Congressional Battle Looming

Anticipating the ruling, some Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives this week underscored their opposition to the FCC’s policy by proposing legislation that would effectively prohibit the FCC from enforcing the new rules.

The proposal is unlikely to get through the U.S. Senate on its own and would almost certainly be vetoed by President Barack Obama, a supporter of Net neutrality. The House Republicans, however, attached the proposal to a must-pass appropriations bill.

The preliminary nature of the court order and the ongoing gamesmanship over the issue in Congress means the issue is far from settled, according to Kagan.

“Net neutrality has been argued for years and that will continue for many more years,” he said. “This issue is not settled. We are still in the middle of the process.”

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