The battle for the last digital mile

Net neutrality is a simple concept: All data are created equally. Or, at least, should be treated equally. It means, at its base, TimeWarner, Verizon, Comcast, or some other broadband provider cannot discriminate in data speed.

The Federal Communications Commission implemented the net neutrality regulation – more formally known as Open Internet – as a way to ensure big companies would not push out smaller rivals by paying a premium for Internet access. The regulation was also intended to prevent large providers from monopolizing the portal and slowing down or even excluding their competitors from entering someone’s home on the “last mile” – that final connection from the provider to a customer’s home or office.

Opponents of the FCC policy had argued it was a regulation looking for a problem, that the concerns were misplaced. On Tuesday, a federal Appeals Court sided with broadband providers and ordered the FCC to let the market determine how the Internet will be used. It’s a ruling that could mean nothing to consumers – or everything in what, how, and how much you pay to receive data on your device at home, in your office, or in your pocket.

The decision, which the FCC is mulling whether to appeal, potentially opens up a whole new world of data traffic and use. What it means is that Internet service providers can charge larger companies such as Netflix, ESPN, and its parent, Disney, or Facebook higher fees to ensure faster speeds to customers’ devices. Those fees, in turn, could be passed on to users.

Smaller content producers — maybe local news sites or nonprofits, maybe a start-up with a graphic-heavy site design that requires speed to be attractive and efficient — may pay the price if they can’t pay the price. It could mean that innovative companies such as Twitter or Amazon, which were dependent on unfettered Internet access to get up and running when they were dirt-poor ideas, could be the last of their breed. It may take deep pockets for the next Skype to get off the ground.

The ruling also opens the door for broadband providers to meter the amount – and the type – of data a customer uses. For people who do a lot of video streaming, music or game downloads, or other such heavy data usage, the companies could slow down the download speed unless the customer is willing to pony up a few more bucks for a few more gigabytes. It could also mean companies such as Verizon or Comcast could block apps from each other or other competitors from being accessed on their network.

Most Internet service providers say they remain committed to an open Internet. But for how long is the question. Comcast is bound by a settlement agreement made when it acquired NBC Universal in 2011 to adhere to open Internet rules until 2018. Though Verizon pledged fealty to net neutrality, officials have already made hints about looking at some “improvements,” a code word that has alarmed open Internet advocates.

“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,” the company said in a statement following the ruling.

The decision also paves the way for mobile providers to implement some changes. Last week, AT&T unveiled a new plan that will allow customers to stream videos from sources such as YouTube and Netflix outside of normal data caps. The company insisted the Sponsored Data service didn’t violate net neutrality regulations but it went right to the line – and now it doesn’t matter.

The FCC says the ruling doesn’t reduce its role in ensuring fair and equitable access to the Internet from both ends and vowed to continue to find that balance between the free market and consumer protection. But one thing is very clear: Net neutrality has been neutered.

–JACK SULLIVAN  

BEACON HILL

State Rep. Carlos Henriquez, a Dorchester Democrat, is found guilty of assaulting a woman he was having a sexual relationship with. Many on Beacon Hill and across Boston are calling on Henriquez to resign, NECN reports.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer, who lost out to Sen. Stanley Rosenberg in a bid to succeed Senate President Therese Murray, is leaving the Legislature, reports Boston magazine.

New punch line: Suffolk County Register of Probate Patricia Campatelli, who was recently put on four days of paid leave following allegations she assaulted an employee in her office, was suddenly put back on leave by state court officials as the Globe raised new questions about the alleged episode.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence receives a $700,000 grant under the Federal Reserve Bank’s Working Cities Challenge. The other recipients are Salem, Somerville, Chelsea, Holyoke, and Fitchburg, NECN reports.

The Globe reports that Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s first budget will include cuts made necessary, in part, by a rich pay raise given to police that Walsh said was too much but which he declined to urge city councilors to reject. The Boston Public Schools will see a budget increase to accommodate teacher salary hikes but will have to cut elsewhere to offset the loss of federal funds.

New Brockton Mayor William Carpenter has ordered an update to the city’s website, including replacing his predecessor’s name with his. The update should allow residents to transact more business online, such as renewing dog licenses and paying bills.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority board will consider today a proposal for a massive Fenway development that would include 550 apartments and the city’s first Wegmans supermarket.

Plum Island homeowners lash out at state and local officials at a meeting over chronic beach erosion.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The House approves a $1 trillion appropriations bill that contains $75 million in disaster aid to fishermen and their communities, the Gloucester Times reports. The New York Times paints the budget as a defeat for the Tea Party.

The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in the challenge to the Massachusetts abortion-clinic buffer zone law. Greater Boston invites on two key players on the opposing sides of the abortion debate to discuss the state law and the Supreme Court’s consideration of whether it violates free speech rights.

New York’s governor and attorney general wage a cold war in Albany.

Gail Collins asks the country’s governors to step up their state of the state games.

ELECTIONS

A report from the Federal Election Commission says Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS may have violated campaign finance laws governing nonprofits. Meanwhile, Rove, who rose to electoral prominence by juicing the turnout in his candidates’ political bases, says in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column that turning out the base isn’t enough to win.

RoseLee Vincent, who served as chief of staff to Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein and her father for the last 25 years, says she will run for the Revere seat herself as Reinstein takes a job with the Boston Beer Co., the Item reports.

Holliston resident James Arena-DeRosa jumps into the race for lieutenant governor.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Donald Berwick outlines his vision at Suffolk Law School.

Fed up with getting nothing done and being away from young families, some members of Congress are packing it in.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A new report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council says the communities in the Greater Boston region could struggle to attract new workers unless more is done by cities and towns to increase the multi-family housing stock.

Braintree town councilors give initial approval to a nearly $1 million property tax break to Haemonetics after the medical technology manufacturer, which is cutting more than 300 jobs already, said it needed the relief to transform its headquarters into a research and development facility.

Changes at the top for Raytheon, where CEO William Swanson announced he’s stepping down.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer dumps the COO she hired in 2012 and gives him a $20 million stock bonus as a severance package, Time reports.

Banks that market accounts to military families lead the country in racking up fees from account-holders.

EDUCATION

Salem State University reopens The Salem Diner, which the school purchased last summer. The diner is being run by the university’s food service operator, the Salem News reports.

A school committee member in Southbridge criticizes a local political blog for raising the issue of her weight in its articles, but the blog moderator, a former town councilor and state rep, says weight is a fair issue in a school system that notifies parents about the body mass index of their children, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

Parents in Westford question why the school system removed Jewish holidays from the school calendar, the Sun reports.

Slate looks at the spread of creationism in Texas charter schools.

HEALTH CARE

UMass Memorial Medical Center makes job cuts to offset a $55 million operating loss in fiscal 2013, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester is one of several nonprofit community hospitals to receive grants under a program administered by the Health Policy Commission, the Gloucester Times reports.

A federal judge upholds the legality of health care subsidies in the Affordable Care Act.

TRANSPORTATION

The EPA has released a critique of the Army Corps of Engineers report on the South Coast Rail project saying there are still questions about the environmental impact before the agency can sign off, including the effect on frogs breeding in vernal pools.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

MEDIA

AOL turns over Patch to an investment firm that specializes in turnarounds and will retain only a small investment in the company.