What’s the Deal With Net Neutrality

Matthew Workman, Codesmith

How The Proposed FCC Regulations Can Harm Your Business Indefinitely

What Is Net Neutrality?

If you’ve spent much time on the internet in the last few weeks, you’ve likely encountered the term “net neutrality” being thrown around. Wednesday, July 12 was the Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality, where thousands of sites, including Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, and more participated to raise awareness for this critical issue that is threatening to change the way the internet works.

So what is it really? Net neutrality is the concept that all data should be treated equally, regardless of source or destination. No bit, byte, or packet would be treated any differently than any other. This is currently the status quo, and historically and for the moment, the FCC treats the internet like a utility.

Compare this to, for example, your local water utility: your home gets water from the water company, and you are free to use it as you wish to bathe, flush your toilet, water your lawn, etc. So it is with the internet provided by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) — you have one connection to the internet, and are free to use it as you wish in your household, whether it is surfing the web, streaming movies, or downloading music and images.

Net neutrality is important to consumers because it gives them the freedom of choice to visit any website or internet service they want, which means it is doubly important for businesses who rely on a website or app to provide information or services to consumers. A neutral internet allows users to visit any site they wish, which allows advertisers, content providers, and even simple informative sites to reach their audience freely and equitably.

So What’s The Big Deal?

Newly-appointed FCC commissioner Ajit Varadaraj Pai, backed by a handful of powerful ISP lobbyists, wants to change the way that works. The proposed change to the rules would let ISPs have the power to throttle bandwidth to specific sites, or block them altogether. ISPs could also then prioritize or redirect traffic to their own sites or apps, or to those of partners who pay them more.

This could lead to “tiered” internet plans, that offer fast-lane style access to certain sites and apps, while slowing or even blocking access to sites that they don’t deem worthy.

Instead of one rate for your internet, signing up for service would now look a lot like this:

Verizon Fios Plans

What’s It Mean For Me?

The end of net neutrality is obviously bad for the consumer. ISPs could effectively control what you are able to see, and charge more to let you access your favorite content at reasonable speeds.

The real losers at the end of net neutrality, however, are independent businesses who thrive on the internet. Almost every company these days has a website, and depends on it to reach their customers. These websites are most in danger of being shunted to the slow lane, swept aside by the handful of large sites who can afford to be listed as part of “premium” tier plans. This hurts startups, local businesses, and anyone else who depends on advertising or web traffic to help grow their business.

Large websites or services like Facebook, Amazon or Google, might be able to afford to pay ISPs to be in the “fast lane”, or if they fail to pay, the ISPs could throttle or even block visitors access to their sites. This has already happened, when Verizon admitted to throttling video streaming from Netflix. Now, imagine if you didn’t have deep enough pockets to ensure visitors can view your site quickly. It’s already been shown that slow loading sites drive visitors away in droves. Intentional throttling of sites would be an absolute disaster for the startups and small businesses that thrive on the web like yours.

What Can I Do About It?

The end of net neutrality is not set in stone. Over 50,000 websites have joined the fight to protect the open internet, and millions of individuals have contacted the FCC or signed petitions to halt the repeal of net neutrality.

Click here to take action.

Or, take a look at what happened on the Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality.

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