Photo credit: Dennis Skley Imagine your water company telling you what brand, make and model of washing machine you had to use at home?  Your electric company specifying the style of lamp on your desk?  The telephone company saying what you could talk about on your phone?

Crazy as it sounds, your Internet service provider (ISP) may be considering just such a move regarding your use of the World Wide Web – in the office, at home or on the go.

On Dec. 31, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that ISPs had to be transparent about their “network management practices, performance and commercial terms of their broadband services”; could not “block lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices”; and could not “unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service.”

In short, much legal lingo to say the Internet is an open pipe, to be used for anything as long as the content is not illegal or a connected device is physically dangerous.  The FCC refers to it, simply enough, as “The Open Internet.”

Recently, a federal appeals court in Washington overruled the Commission’s position, stating that the FCC’s flagship law – the Communications Act of 1934 – prohibits government regulation of what ISPs do with respect to content.  In other words, ISPs can speed up, slow down or block content for whatever reason they see fit.

Aside from all the common sense reasons why this is bad, an online opinion from Wired spells out dangers of this action, from disenfranchising a portion of our population who can benefit the most from an open Internet to shifting the power of information from individuals to government and a small number of corporations.

At a time when we’re focused on whether or not the guy in seat 17B should be able to make a phone call from 32,000 feet or what the National Security Administration can or should track and store for or about people in the U.S., it sometimes is the quieter, nerdier topic that gets abandoned in the fray. This is one that needs to become and stay visible until open Internet described by the FCC is reaffirmed.