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Well everyone, I think it’s only appropriate that we have a moment of silence for the unfortunate death of net neutrality. Last month, on June 11th, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal of net neutrality rules officially went into effect. What does this really mean, though? How does this effect those who are considered content consumers and those who are producers of that content? How could this potentially effect small business? What about the competition online in general? Are there actually any benefits that can come from this? There are tons of questions looming.
What is Net Neutrality? A Reminder.
The principle of net neutrality has been around for quite awhile at this point. Going back to the 1990s when the internet was just starting to hit it’s stride, this topic emerged with the concern of keeping all internet data open and discrimination free, thus creating the foundation for net neutrality as we know it today.
Fast forward a few decades to 2015 and the Obama Administration put a new set of rules together to help enforce net neutrality for the modern age. The cornerstone of these rules was quite simple: keep the internet open and free. This meant that internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon, or AT&T could not slow down site loading speeds, or charge companies for preferential treatment for internet access.
My favorite metaphor to use in this case to help paint a picture is that of a highway. Under net neutrality, the internet functions as a one-lane highway which everyone flows at the same speed, at the same rate, and on the same path. Every site, no matter how big or how small was given equal access.
“…without net neutrality the costs associated with obtaining fast internet could make things difficult, and stunt the growth of the next internet unicorn. Startups are very, very important for the growth of the US economy.” — Nicholas Economides, Professor of Economics, New York University
Without net neutrality, ISPs could statute fast and slow lanes, have the ability to block any sites they desire, and even charge companies more money in order to have access to their target demographic to even have the ability to access their website. For example, we all use streaming services like Netflix and HBO Go. What if HBO decides they want to pay a ton of cash to Comcast and AT&T which would in turn give them the edge when it comes to speed and experience over Netflix? Netflix gets throttled to a crawl because they haven’t paid and HBO Go gets the royal treatment. A little unfair, right?
If you’re like me, you’re more of a visual learner. If that’s the case, Burger King has done a wonderful job explaining just what the death of net neutrality means using their burgers as a visual tool.
Thanks to Burger King, a visualization of net neutrality: Whopper Neutrality
The death of net neutrality: Why is this happening?
On December 14th of 2017, the FCC voted to repeal the net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration. Those who oppose this decision claim this is the government putting their grubby hands where they do not belong, logic being the internet has functioned this many decades fairly without government regulation, so why start now?
The FCC claims that if there is in fact a violation of any sort, those go straight to the FTC. This could be obnoxious if you view the FCC as the police officers and the FTC as the court. The FCC is there trying to keep the peace, but if something goes wrong, the the violation goes to the FTC (or the court) and we all know how long it takes for anything to get to court… it could take months. Or years. Not very ideal.
What the death of net neutrality means for small business.
Before this decision was made, everyone online was on an even playing field. The death of net neutrality undermines innovation, thus making it more difficult for start-up companies and other small businesses to compete with large corporations that can afford to pay all ISPs for preferred treatment. This encourages corporate domination online and keeps the next Google or Facebook competitor from emerging. The little guys don’t stand a chance… and never will unless this is overturned.
Does the death of net neutrality effect me if I do not have a business?
Short answer: yes. Although you may not own a business and fear for the inability to pay off ISPs in order to even have a chance at selling to your target demographic, you will experience what could potentially come of a post net neutrality era. In fact, here is a fun list of things below that you may experience on the regular:
- Slower load times for your favorite websites!
- More website buffer icons than ever before!
- Higher cost per month for the premium internet experience!
- Higher costs from SaaS model services and streaming apps just to offset the ISP cost!
- …and much, much more!
So what happens now?
Well, we’re not exactly sure… and not all hope is exactly lost. Just because these rules were overturned and actually gives ISPs the ability to charge more and throttle our favorite sites, it doesn’t exactly mean that they will. Companies like Comcast have publicly stated that the internet experience being served from them will be the same tomorrow as it is today. I’d recommend taking that with a grain of salt, but let’s hope for the best.
Individual states and cities are also sticking up for open internet by passing legislation that protects the free and open internet as we know it on a local scale. For example, the governor of New York and Montana were the first to sign executive orders which do not allow the states themselves to enter any sort of ISP agreements unless they first agree to net neutrality principles. A number of other states have simply filed lawsuits against the FCC and called it a day.
If you’re like me, you’re wondering how you can help make a difference if you stand against the repeal of net neutrality rules. The best thing you can do is stay informed. Keep up with the issues at hand and research what is happening. If any of the changes you see happening will directly affect you or your business, make a call to your state’s representatives and allow your voice to be heard!