Net neutrality has been in the news a lot lately, however most people are not completely clear on what the term net neutrality means, and many others are unsure how the legislation surrounding it will affect them. For business owners, the legislation being written now could have huge implications for the future of their business.
FIRST, A LITTLE BACKGROUND
Let’s start off with an easy question: what exactly is net neutrality, anyway? Searching for a definition of net neutrality will turn up something like “the concept that internet service providers must enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.” What this cut-and-dry definition is really saying is that under the 2015 FCC ruling in favor of net neutrality ISPs (Internet Service Providers), or companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, were legally obligated to treat all data the same. They could not create “fast lanes” to send out data faster than other companies, “throttle” or slow down data, or determine which information sources consumers were and were not allowed to view or had to pay a premium to access.
However the recent repeal of these rules, which took place in June 2018, no longer requires internet service providers to offer equal access to all web content. Supporters of this repeal claim that the internet prior to the 2015 FCC that protected net neutrality had been "the envy of the world thanks to a market-based approach that began in the mid-1990s."
HOW DOES IT AFFECT MY SMALL BUSINESS?
So how does this legislation affect you as a business owner? It’s no secret that the internet is a key tool for small and large businesses alike, therefore ending net neutrality will certainly impact the day-to-day operations of your business. Evan Greer of Fight for the Future, an open-internet advocacy group stated that repealing net neutrality “amounts to a tax on small businesses that they just can’t afford.”
A major concern shared by many business owners is that providers will begin selling internet usage plans in bundles, similar to cable television packages. For example, if your business relies heavily on social media to raise brand awareness and to connect with consumers (and let's face it, most businesses do), you may have to begin paying for a premium social media package through your current internet service provider.
The idea that the internet could transform into a pay-to-play system in which only those who are willing and able to pay for premium packages is a nerve-wracking one, and the resulting environment would certainly change the way many businesses market themselves. The unfair playing field created by the repeal of net neutrality makes it easier for industry giants to continue their rein unopposed by small but dynamic newcomers who will be saddled with new challenges.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
The fight for net neutrality is ongoing – the state of California recently reached an agreement on legislation to “enshrine net neutrality provisions in state law,” and they're not the only ones. As of late May 2018, 29 state legislatures had introduced bills meant to ensure net neutrality. Online industry giants such as Amazon and Google have also protested the repeal of net neutrality by emphasizing the difficulties users could experience if throttling and usage bundles become common practices.
The implications of these developments are significant - make sure your small business is ready and stay on top of the issue as it unfolds.