Christmas came 345 days early for Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and their US internet service provider bretheren. Today a United States Federal Appeals court ruled that the FCC does not have the right to regulate the way in which ISPs provide access to the internet. I'll spare you the complex details, but the cliffnotes are that it's now completely legal for service providers to throttle or even block access to parts of the internet they don't want you to use. For example, Comcast could disable Netflix access so that you are forced to use their TV and streaming services.
This also opens up the door to "tiered plans," which Verizon is apparently already making plans for. Executive vice president Randy Milch said "One thing is for sure: today's decision will not change consumers' ability to access and use the Internet as they do now. The court's decision will allow more room for innovation, and consumers will have more choices to determine for themselves how they access and experience the Internet. Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet which provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content when, where, and how they want."
Now it's totally possible that they'll continue to offer free and open access to the internet at current rates. It's also possible that "free and open access to the internet" will be the top tier of a new internet plan, which will divide up services provided. This would be similar to the methods through which Verizon and Comcast already offer cell phone and cable services. Streaming video? That's extra. Online games? Another charge. Whatever Verizon and others choose to do next, the fact is it's now legally in their power to control how, where, and at what speeds you access individual parts of internet.
Interestingly, within their ruling the court recognized that the intention of these companies was likely dangerous to consumers, but denied the FCC's ability to regulate them based on the language of the law. The court stated "Equally important, the commission has adequately supported and explained its conclusion that, absent rules such as those set forth in the Open Internet Order, broadband providers represent a threat to Internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment. Nothing in the record gives us any reason to doubt the Commission's determination that broadband providers may be motivated to discriminate against and among edge providers."