Last week, the Washington DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (pdf) that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) no longer has the authority to require that cable and internet service providers (ISP) treat all internet traffic equally. You have probably heard of this issue already; it's typically referred to as the issue of Net Neutrality. This decision, for now, nullifies net neutrality, so what does that mean for you?
(Most) Internet Traffic Was Created Equal
This ruling has the greatest affect on the most visible type of internet traffic: the World Wide Web (WWW). Since the birth of the WWW, of course, we've really only needed to pay basic access. Once you got your account with an ISP, whether it was with Prodigy, Compuserve, AOL, Comcast, TIme Warner, or any of the multitude of other ISPs, you were able to access all the information out there. If a content provider wanted to charge for content--as a bookstore or publisher might charge for a magazine--you could pay your access fee to the content provider and their content would be yours or at least accessible for a contracted period of time. Though it might charge at tiered pricing levels based on the bandwidth consumed, your ISP did not make any distinctions in the price they charged for access to that information on the basis of its actual content.
As of last week, now they can.
All Internet Traffic Must No Longer Be Treated Equally
With last week's ruling, your ISP is now allowed to charge you rates that may differ on the basis of what content is actually being served, on top of any costs the content publisher may dictate. For example, if Time Warner is your ISP, they are now free to charge you more to access MSNBC than they would charge you to access CNN, which is a Time-Warner property. On the other hand, Time Warner could now also waive or reduce the costs to get behind a CNN paywall--if such existed--provided you were already paying Time Warner for internet service. Furthermore, this ruling allows an ISP to freely throttle provided bandwidth on the basis of the content consuming the bandwidth.
What Does This Mean For You
Of course, you've probably been using SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor, NetFlow Traffic Analyzer, and VoIP & Network Quality Manager to monitor and manage the traffic on your own internal networks (If not, you should be; check out the demo!) in ways similar to what the FCC is now authorizing for ISPs. Most users understand how that is reasonable at work: my boss would prefer that I spend more of my time writing docs than geeking out on Pinterest, but it's significantly different when we're talking about cruising the web from the comfort of our own home.
An interesting aside is that this whole issue is largely only a concern in the more developed parts of the world, where internet access has become as commonplace and taken for granted as clean water. In areas of the world where hotspots are few and far between, the internet has always been experienced in significantly different ways. What's your expereince?