Keeping the Internet ‘Free’
In the last few weeks net neutrality has been in the news again. So we decided to revisit the topic and see what it means for small businesses. Before we get started, we acknowledge that this is a highly politicized topic. You may not agree with our opinion and that’s ok.
What is Net Neutrality?
If you’re interested in getting a more detailed overview on what net neutrality is, you can read an old post we wrote about the Net Neutrality law change in 2014. Another good starting point is the excellent Stuff You Should Know podcast on the topic. Here’s the short(er) version:
Net neutrality is the battle to keep the internet as unregulated and uncensored as possible. Currently anybody can create a website and that website can go live on the internet. But possible changes to the way the internet is regulated may give greater control to ISPs (internet service providers – like Comcast or AT&T). This greater control could lead to ISPs charging a website a fee to display their site to its users. Or that ISP could reduce traffic to a particular website for other reasons such as special interest lobbying or differing political viewpoints or locking out competition. For example, you run a rival ISP; other ISPs could block your website or reduce its loading speed to its subscribers.
Not Neutral Now
Now this already exists in some ways. Of course the internet is not totally neutral now. For example companies like Netflix have paid ISPs so they can provide their service faster. So if I start my movie streaming business tomorrow, it will not be on a level playing field. But many experts predict that deregulation of ISPs will lead to more instances. New businesses will not only have to potentially pay various different ISPs to make their website accessible, they will also not be competing as equals when they do.
The counter argument is that deregulation will actually empower the end user thus encouraging a spirit of competition. In essence, it encourages ISPs to display the content users want to view. Basically, the best websites or services will create enough demand to force the ISPs hand. The cream will rise to the top.
Impact to Small Business
This is all very interesting, but what does it mean for small business owners? Net neutrality poses a risk to all businesses. The ramifications most likely to be felt hardest by smaller companies. Currently the financial cost of creating a website is relatively small. You can purchase a domain and get a site live on WordPress or Squarespace in a number of hours for a reasonable cost. You’ll also need to factor in which ISPs to display your new website. With ISP deregulation, it may add levels of complexity and potential costs.
Tumblr Hushed with Verizon Purchase
But wait, there’s more. More complications may arise depending on what your industry. For example, Verizon’s recent purchase of Yahoo has led to some changes to some Yahoo subsidiaries such as Flickr and Tumblr. Now these services are owned by Verizon. In turn, you might need a Verizon or Yahoo email to use them.
The blogging site Tumblr, previously a big advocate of net neutrality, is no longer speaking out now it is owned by an ISP. In short, if the ISP doesn’t like what your business does, they might not display your website.
Google & Net Neutrality
Again these issues exist already in some ways. For example, Google hide, by way not displaying prominently in SERPs, websites that don’t adhere to their quality guidelines and policies. That said, these websites are still accessible. They’re just harder to find.
In short, we think the internet should remain as neutral as possible. The current FCC regulations help it remain that way. Deregulation in this case will not enable small business owners to work without red tape. Instead it loads the dice in favor of big business with deeper pockets. If you want to support the net neutrality fight, you can join others who share your concerns.
How else do you think the FCC reg changes could affect small business?
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