A federal appeals court ruling Tuesday that would allow Comcast to limit customers' access to heavy-file downloading and other sites that take up a lot of data “pipe” could be a mixed blessing for Hollywood.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of the cable provider, which is taking over NBC and has a significant programming presence in Los Angeles. It had restricted some broadband users' access to BitTorrent sites that often allow downloads of movies and music. The company's rationale is that these users are taking up more space on the Internet, elbowing out other users.

The Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission and several tech companies such as Google, Microsoft and others favor “net neutrality” that does not place restrictions on web surfing depending on what's being accessed. The ruling could open the door to service providers charging more for those who weigh networks down with more data-intensive downloads. In other words, the decision opens the door for a class system of internet access, with heavy users and downloaders possibly paying more.

While that could be a good thing for Hollywood-connected companies like Comcast and Time Warner that also have service-provider arms, it could also hinder efforts on the part of the film and television industry (NBC- and Fox-affiliated Hulu, Netflix) to use the net's quick-and-easy pipelines as a new distribution model for its content.

Some members of congress questioned whether the ruling would allow Comcast, for example, to favor the content of its own cable channels over that of competitors.

S. Derek Turner, research director for the pro-net-neutrality group Free Press, said, “As a result of this decision, the FCC has virtually no power to stop Comcast from blocking Web sites … ” The ruling, he stated, leaves a “huge loophole in the law that leaves the agency unable to protect consumer privacy or promote universal broadband access.”

LA Weekly