FORTUNE -- There are so many potential problems with Comcast's (CMCSA) proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable (TWC) that getting the deal past antitrust regulators, were that to happen, would rank as a major accomplishment. But one of the biggest ongoing concerns of people worried about industry concentration -- the erosion of net neutrality rules -- might actually be eased by the deal. At least for a few years.
That's because Comcast, as part of the deal it made with the government allowing it to acquire NBCUniversal in 2010, has pledged to maintain net neutrality. The acquisition of Time Warner Cable, if approved, would presumably expand that agreement to all of Time Warner Cable's customers.
Net neutrality is a fairly simple concept that gets a bit complicated in the details. Essentially, it means that Internet service providers can't discriminate among various sources of network traffic. For example, Comcast can't slow down traffic from Netflix (NFLX) (or force it to pay for adequate speeds) while favoring video traffic from NBC. A complete abandonment of net neutrality would change the nature of how the Internet works by putting power over the distribution of content in the hands of Internet service providers -- which for most people means the big cable companies that often hold local monopolies on broadband Internet service.
A U.S. Appeals court last month struck down the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, striking fear in the hearts of both Internet users and companies -- like Netflix and Google (GOOG) -- that depend on equal access to the Internet.
The consent decree allowing the Comcast-NBCU merger requires the company to maintain net neutrality rules until January 2018. It seems likely that Comcast will offer to extend that agreement to Time Warner Cable customers, or that the government would demand that it do so. It's also possible that a new agreement with the government allowing the merger could extend the time the company would have to hew to neutrality rules, or even make them permanent. Together, Comcast and Time Warner Cable serve about a third of all U.S. Internet customers.
In the meantime, regulators will likely be scrutinizing more immediately troubling aspects of the merger, such as the unprecedented power the combined companies would have in the market for television programming.
Tim Wu told the New York Times in 2010 that Apple was a threat to the Internet.
FORTUNE -- With "net neutrality" back in the headlines after Tuesday's federal appeals court ruling, I thought I'd check in with Tim Wu, the Columbia law professor who coined the phrase.
When asked by the New York Times' Nick Binton what forces threatened the Internet in 2010, Wu famously singled out Apple (AAPL):
"I know the Internet MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 15, 2014 10:56 AM ET
The outcome of Verizon's lawsuit against the FCC might do more to determine the future of the Internet than the FCC's new chairman possibly can.
FORTUNE -- Tom Wheeler's appointment as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission was about as friction-free as could be, despite the fact that Sen. Ted Cruz threatened to block the nomination over his supposed worries about rules governing disclosure of who pays for political ads. A MOREDan Mitchell, contributor - Nov 1, 2013 3:53 PM ET
There has been some concern about Tom Wheeler's lobbyist past and his role as a top Obama fundraiser. Is it warranted?
FORTUNE -- "Competition is a power unto itself that must be encouraged. Competitive markets produce better outcomes than regulated or uncompetitive markets."
That's a platitude that could easily have been uttered in the late 1990s, when financial markets were being deregulated. Or during the 1970s, when the airlines were being deregulated. MOREDan Mitchell, contributor - Jun 19, 2013 3:37 PM ET
Whomever President Obama nominates to replace outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, there will be political fallout.
FORTUNE -- There are lots of different issues that the Federal Communications Commission can affect: from media ownership rules to broadband deployment to whether broadcasters must pay insanely large fines for "wardrobe malfunctions" and people swearing during live awards ceremonies. But as observers try to guess who might replace outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the issue MOREDan Mitchell, contributor - Mar 29, 2013 6:52 AM ET
A curated selection of the day's most newsworthy tech stories from all over the Web.
Today, the FCC votes on Internet regulations that would mandate that companies treat all kind of Web content equally -- though as they are now, the rules would not apply to wireless data. Venture capitalist and former California State Controller Steve Westly explained why the net neutrality proposal announced by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is a must-have. (CNN MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Dec 21, 2010 6:00 AM ET
A round-up of the companies, deals, and trends that made headlines.
Every day, the Fortune staff spends hours poring over tech stories, posts, and reviews from all over the Web to keep tabs on the companies that matter. We've assembled the day's most newsworthy bits below.HP (HPQ) selected ex-SAP executive Léo Apotheker to take the vacant CEO spot once held by Oracle's Mark Hurd. "Leo is a strategic thinker with a passion MORE JP Mangalindan, Writer - Oct 1, 2010 6:45 AM ET
A round-up of the companies, deals, and trends that made headlines.
Every day, the Fortune staff spends hours poring over tech stories, posts, and reviews from all over the Web to keep tabs on the companies that matter. We've assembled the day's most newsworthy bits below.It's official: AOL (AOL) is acquiring TechCrunch, video distribution start-up 5Min media, and Brizzly web-app maker, Thing Labs. (Terms were not disclosed.) (All Things Digital) In a lengthy, MORE JP Mangalindan, Writer - Sep 29, 2010 6:30 AM ET
As Google moves into (and starts to depend on) ISPs' business, is it having an easier time seeing things from their point of view?
It's now clear that Google underestimated the public's desire for true net neutrality over both wireless and wired services -- something the company quickly discovered after issuing a joint policy recommendation with Verizon last week.
Google tried to explain its thinking with a couple of posts, but so far MORESeth Weintraub - Aug 15, 2010 10:18 PM ET
Just about everyone has an opinion on this, now Google fires back at the perceived "myths."
Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel for Google (GOOG), today posted a six-part Myth/Fact sheet which attempts to "separate fact from fiction."MYTH: Google has "sold out" on network neutrality. MYTH: This proposal represents a step backwards for the open Internet. MYTH: This proposal would eliminate network neutrality over wireless. MYTH: This proposal will allow broadband providers to MORE Seth Weintraub - Aug 13, 2010 11:11 AM ET
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