Update: The FCC is considering deregulation of ISPs, putting Net Neutrality into question. You can read more about the developments and how to get involved in this post here.
Preserving Freedoms on the Web
Conspiracy theories aside, the issue of Net Neutrality has sparked a loud debate. What is Net Neutrality and what are its implications for businesses who utilize online marketing.
The Net Neutrality Issue
There are a handful of telecommunication providers that provide high-speed Internet. When we send and receive information (e.g. emails, access websites, downloads), companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T have the opportunity to analyze your data. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had protections in place that prevented providers from digging into our information.
In January 2014, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed out an 81-page ruling that’s a bit confusing. It first said that the FCC had overstepped it authority. They followed up by saying the FCC could impose new (and potentially stronger) rules. Hmmm.
Technology now exists to sift through massive amount of information for commercial insight and profit (hello, Big Data). The fear is that telecoms will use this access to our data and begin altering how they charge for Internet access. Want to stream movies? Sure… you just gotta pay extra.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggests applying “well-established common carrier rules” to the Internet in order to preserve freedom and openness.” This is an old concept, dating back centuries; it’s been applied to railroads, public highways, water systems… and telegraph and telephone networks. Common carrier rules were written into the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Now that technology has advanced, the laws are outdated. No surprise. Smartphone cameras and Google Glass are pushing the envelope on privacy legislation.
Online Privacy an Illusion
Privacy, especially online privacy, is a hot button for many. Reports of the NSA accessing information from Google makes splashy headlines. My opinion? Privacy on the Web is an illusion. In order for the Internet to work, data has to pass through many systems and data pipes. Without it, we’d have to set up private communication systems which is impractical and expensive. Even so, there should be limits on how our information is used.
Protecting Consumer & Business Freedoms
So what’s my take on Net Neutrality? Freedom of speech is a basic American right, both online and offline.
We purchase services from broadband providers to gain access to the Internet, now an essential tool for both consumers and businesses. This is where capitalism and legal rights collide. There’s more profit to be made by charging a premium to consumers and businesses for faster download speeds.
So what’s the implication for business?
According to an edgy Huffington Post article, here are some potential implications:
1. Companies with deep pockets will pay to see their content delivered quickly. Those without the financial resources will have a harder time accessing their customer base.(Comment: don’t small businesses have a hard enough time competing in organic search and paid ads?!)
2. The Web will look different for the haves and have-nots. Imagine being charged to access certain websites.
3. A world without net neutrality will stifle innovation as the level playing field of the Web is blocked to those who can’t pay.
4. Internet providers will curate content similar to TV channels, where consumers don’t have easy access to the content they really want.
5. Information is no longer free, and therefore will become a luxury for those who can afford it.
What Can We Do?
Our laws haven’t kept pace with technological advances. That’s the crux of the Net Neutrality debate. You can write your local politician. You can fill out the ACLU’s petition (assuming your broadband is fast and stable enough ;).
What are your thoughts about Net Neutrality? Is it worth fighting for?
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