A Washington appeals court struck down the Federal Communication Commission's Open Internet regulations this morning, in a move that may change the landscape of the Internet in the near future. 

Internet companies have worked like phone companies, for the most part, in that they transfer data indiscriminately through their networks. The FCC's net neutrality rules sought to keep this structure in place, while cable and telecommunications companies have fought tooth and nail to do away with them. Essentially, they got their wish today. With the two out of three judges on the court striking down the FCC's regulations and agreeing that Internet providers aren't considered "common carriers" like phone companies, they've opened the door to making the Internet an uneven playing field where companies like Netflix will be able to pay top dollar to get their webpages to load faster over competitors' webpages, like Hulu.

Internet users will pay dearly for the previous chairman's lack of political will.

This will help keep established corporations on the Internet in place, since these loosened rules would hurt the chances of any startups who might want to offer a competing product from gaining momentum, in part because they likely won't be able to afford access to the "express lanes" of the Internet that companies like Netflix would theoretically have paid for. Also, ISP's will be allowed to block content and speeds at their discretion. For example, if Verizon wanted to block Time Warner websites from their networks, to make it harder for users to see the competition, they could.

"The FCC — under the leadership of former Chairman Julius Genachowski — made a grave mistake when it failed to ground its Open Internet rules on solid legal footing," said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press. "Internet users will pay dearly for the previous chairman's lack of political will."

The FCC's original rules, which were struck down, said that Internet providers ”shall not block lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management” and that they “shall not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service.”

Yet, the court's response to their ruling was simply: find somewhere else to go if you don't like your service provider.

“Without broadband provider market power, consumers, of course, have options,” the court said. “They can go to another broadband provider if they want to reach particular edge providers or if their connections to particular edge providers have been degraded.”

An appeal by the FCC and its supporters is still possible.

[via Yahoo]