For the nth time in the past 20 years, the subject of net neutrality—the principle that all internet data should be treated as equally valuable and accessible by the government and internet service providers—has trended to the top of news feeds. As a SMB owner, you might be wondering what net neutrality1 (also known as Open Internet) has to do with you and how it impacts your business operations. Let’s review some of the basics.
The FCC established four guiding principles2 for internet freedom back in 2004, stating that people had the freedom to:
- access lawful content on the internet;
- use applications;
- attach personal devices to the network;
- and obtain service plan information.
Those guiding principles still apply even under the new rules proposed by the FCC.
The original foundation on which the Open Internet3 was created was that the internet was created to be an information highway, accessible by everyone. Considering the necessity of internet access at work, in school, and at home, internet access should be considered a utility much like energy and water. The FCC currently disagrees.
The Restoring Internet Freedom Order
The FCC has proposed new rules in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (the Order). These rules enable internet service providers (ISPs) to change the way they give people access to internet content. The Order includes empowering ISPs, like AT&T and Verizon, to control consumer and business access speed and even which websites can be viewed by their customers based on data such as traffic volume.
The stated goal of the Order is to reduce government overreach and increase private sector freedom to allow for innovation, investment, and competition. The proposal also puts the Federal Trade Commission back in position over consumer protection and internet privacy issues.
The bone of contention over the Order is this: eliminating neutrality4 means that internet service providers (ISPs) could possibly choose which data they allow consumers to view freely and at the same speed and which data to restrict, requiring upgraded services or payment in line of viewing the data. Basically, consumers may have to choose an ISP package, much like a cell phone package, to gain varying levels of access to information on the internet or experience pay-per-view options.
Generally, consumers currently pay for broadband, Wi-Fi, and cell phone data. The Order could empower ISPs to charge fees for internet access packages, just like paying for cable TV. For example, a “basic” package might give access to certain websites while a “premium” package gives greater access to more websites.
The new FCC rules as proposed raise many questions relating to consumer access and the possible impacts they might have on millions of Americans. Internet has become a necessity in today’s digital world. Will the new proposed rules make the internet inaccessible to people and organizations that cannot afford to pay for internet access packages? Or is the heated debate over the new FCC proposal unnecessary?
Net Neutrality and Your Business
Whether you are a small, family-owned business or a mid-sized corporation, an internet-based business or brick and mortar, the proposed elimination of net neutrality could affect your current budget. If ISPs change how websites are accessed, businesses could experience decreased eCommerce sales, both because fewer consumers may have access and business websites may not appear in search results as they have in the past, should ISPs decide to censor or categorize types of websites.
If ISPs charge varying levels of prices for internet access, businesses may see increased costs for internet usage and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Some experts assert that ISPs could possibly throttle down certain websites to a slower load speed, which could negatively impact Google ranking and therefore appearance in search results.
While FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, supports broadband access by all Americans, he also believes the proposed FCC rules, or deregulation, would allow for increased innovation and competition between ISPs. That may be true in some instances and smaller ISPs may come up with more flexible pricing which would benefit businesses and individuals. But, will the smaller ISPs be able to stand up against larger, more lucrative ISPs? Will larger businesses with the budgets to increase their internet visibility overshadow smaller and mid-size businesses without the budget?
Get the Facts About
You can read the 200-page FCC Fact Sheet, The Restoring Internet Freedom, to further understand how this ruling might impact your business. The Restoring Internet Freedom proceeding is Docket 17-108. As of today, the vote is scheduled for December 14, 2017, with a delay requested by the FCC.