Verizon challenges new net-neutrality rules in court

New York-based Verizon is the country’s fourth-largest fixed-line internet service provider, with 8.3 million subscribers. It’s investing more in home broadband than any other company, since it’s upgrading about two-thirds of its local-phone network with optical fiber for ultra-fast internet access.

The regulations adopted last month try to find a middle ground. The rules require broadband providers to let subscribers access all legal online content, applications, and services over their wired networks. But they give providers flexibility to manage data on their systems to deal with network congestion and unwanted traffic, including spam, as long as they publicly disclose how they manage the network.

The new rules do prohibit unreasonable network discrimination—a category that would likely include “paid prioritization,” which favors the broadband providers’ own traffic or the traffic of business partners that can pay extra—but they do not explicitly bar the practice.

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The regulations also prohibit wireless carriers from blocking access to any websites or competing services, such as internet calling applications on mobile devices, and they require carriers to disclose their network management practices, too. But they give wireless companies more flexibility to manage data traffic, because wireless systems have less network bandwidth and can become overwhelmed with traffic more easily than wired lines.

Education groups fear the net-neutrality rules contain loopholes that one day could lead major internet providers to limit access to campuses that can’t pay premium prices for web service.

“If the rules are not effective in maintaining an open internet, the worst case scenario is that a bidding war develops to get access to high speed,” said Steven Worona, director of policy and network programs for the ed-tech organization EDUCAUSE.  “In that type of situation, the deepest pockets have the best chance of accessing their end users. … In that case, it wouldn’t be surprising if smaller schools have more trouble than larger universities.”

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