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Could The Court's Net Neutrality Ruling Affect Your Gaming?

by Ben Reeves on Jan 14, 2014 at 12:50 PM

Earlier today, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that the Federal Communications Commission's rules for Net Neutrality were unfounded, and the broadband throttling that results could have an adverse effect on digital distribution and online gaming.

Here's what you need to know.

What is Net Neutrality? This is a set of laws developed to ensure that the public can maintain access to what are seen as basic services and public rights of way. The FCC established the Net Neutrality laws back in 2011 to ensure that a service provider (such as Verizon or Comcast) could not refuse service to someone because of their race or religion, but also as a means of ensuring that they didn't block competing traffic on their network or discriminate against another company's services. For example, Comcast can't diminish your ability to stream Netflix because they want to make their own streaming service look better.

So what happened at court today? The appeals court ruled that the FCC could regulate broadband access, but its Net Neutrality law was improper because it treated broadband providers like common carriers (like other telecommunications companies), therefore the Net Neutrality law could not dictate how broadband providers manage their network traffic. Basically, this means that there are currently no laws preventing broadband service providers from throttling their services.

The good news is that this makes it easier for service providers to manage congestion on their networks. The fear is that you could see different broadband speeds for streaming music, movies, and games based on which provider you use and the service you're trying to access.

Service providers could theoretically charge internet-based companies, such as Netflix, Amazon, and Google, a fee to prioritize the delivery of their content. This would mean that companies who paid for the speed boost would see their services pushed to customers' homes more quickly that others.

Will this affect gaming? It's hard to say because we don't even know how this will effect the internet as a whole. Service providers haven't announced plans to charge for throttling their content yet, but if they do, service like PlayStation Now and Xbox Live could also be affected. We'll keep you posted as this legislation evolves.


Our Take
A lot of doomsaying happens after an event like this, but I'm willing to bet that everything will be fine in the long run. The FCC's Net Neutrality laws didn't go into effect until 2011, but I remember the internet running pretty well in 2010. It's also worth noting that the appeals court did rule that the FCC still has jurisdiction over service providers and the freedom to make rules to protect the open Internet, so the FCC is free to come up with new Net Neutrality-like laws, as long as they don't treat internet service providers like common carriers.