The Net Neutrality topic has become a hot one again now that the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is getting set to rule on Verizon’s Net Neutrality challenge. Verizon is challenging the Open Internet rules that the FCC enacted in 2010 and which restrict broadband providers from favoring certain internet users.
Also fueling the debate is the sponsored data offering that AT&T announced last week. The company said it would offer the equivalent of an 800-number for the Internet by enabling businesses to pay for cellular airtime when customers access their website.
A blog post from consumer group the Free Press penned in response to AT&T’s announcement outlines the concerns of Net Neutrality supporters.
“Content and app providers that can’t pay this new toll to reach customers will be at a huge disadvantage, and may never get off the ground in the first place if they can’t afford AT&T’s sponsor fees,” the Free Press said.
The Free Press also argued that the extra costs paid by businesses for sponsored services could flow back to consumers in the form of higher cable bills or higher prices to use websites choosing the sponsorship option.
On a conference call with reporters today, advocacy organization the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research offered up the anti-Net Neutrality arguments.
Richard Bennett, a visiting scholar at AEI, argued that rather than hurting small startup companies, AT&T’s offering “could just as easily be a way for young upstart web firms” to “pay for data to the consumer to make a big splash in the market.”
And Roslyn Layton, also an AEI visiting scholar, argued that broadband providers are investing heavily in their networks and that “asking content providers to participate [in that investment] is only fair.”
According to Bennett, Verizon challenged the FCC’s Net Neutrality ruling, also known as the Open Internet order, not because the company wanted to break those rules but because it was concerned that the FCC was overstepping its authority, which it said would be a bad precedent to set.
“What we’re hearing from the FCC is that enforcement, even if the rules are upheld, wouldn’t be overly onerous,” said Jeffrey A. Eisenach, director of AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications and Technology Policy.
Eisenach argued, for example, that alleged Net Neutrality violations should only be pursued after the fact and only to the extent that they are shown [to be] harmful to competition.”