Recent court rulings and a proposal from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have called into question the future of net neutrality—something that could have seismic repercussions for small business owners and their websites. Giving service providers the ability to control the speed at which specific content and content providers can be sent to you over your connection allows them to control the flow of data and information from both ends. This lowers your overall performance and can create monopolies, forcing you to purchase from specific providers in order to have high quality services. The end result will be a reduction in competition and innovation as these firms create an unfair advantage in the marketplace, forcing out smaller providers that cannot afford the pay-to-play system. The Battle for the Net is calling for those in support of net neutrality to take action by telling lawmakers: “Protect Internet Freedom. Defend Net Neutrality.” You can join the battle by signing the letter on battleforthenet.com and spreading the word on your own website and social media channels.What is net neutrality?
The idea behind net neutrality is fairly simple. Most of us buy broadband service from a small number of large providers, such as Comcast, AT&T or Charter. For years, the expectation has been that these providers will allow Web traffic to flow unimpeded. In other words, the providers won’t manipulate the data as it flows across the network. This means content is treated equally—download speeds don’t vary depending on the source. This is important because some content providers—Netflix, for example—consume massive chunks of bandwidth due to their popularity. Without net neutrality, Internet access providers would face no restrictions on charging major content providers more money to route their traffic.
Thanks to FCC rules, net neutrality has been the standard to which we’ve become accustomed. That could soon change. A January ruling by a U.S. Appeals Court effectively dismantled the FCC’s existing net neutrality regulations. The ruling opened the door for broadband providers to start charging content providers more money for faster service. This could have adverse effects for consumers, as some movies, videos or websites may load slower if the owners elect not to pay for faster service.
In response to the court ruling, the FCC announced it would consider a plan to allow large firms like Comcast and AT&T to build so-called “fast lanes” that allow for faster connection speeds for high-bandwidth companies like Google or Netflix. The rules would also restrict the ability of Internet access providers to throttle data for customers who don’t pay for faster speeds.
How could a change in net neutrality affect small business websites?The absence of net neutrality could have significant and wide-ranging consequences for small business owners. Internet service providers may charge businesses more money for “optimized” speeds. If a business declines to pay, website performance may suffer relative to websites with optimized speeds. This means businesses that don’t pay will be at a competitive disadvantage against businesses with faster speeds and performance.
This kind of two-tiered setup could be a major problem for businesses competing against better funded competitors who can more easily assume additional costs. Businesses that pay for high-end speed will be able to do things like process orders and send e-mails faster and more efficiently—a devastating scenario for smaller businesses.
Customer acquisition could be affected as well. Slower websites could mean fewer visitors spending less time on the site—subsequently generating far less online revenue. Because of its low barrier to entry and massive reach, the Internet has long offered start-ups and small businesses a chance to compete against bigger firms—without net neutrality, that opportunity may be dramatically diminished.
The end of net neutrality could also allow Internet service providers to enter into partnerships and contracts with preferred entities. In essence, they could pick and choose who they do business with and which content is privileged. For businesses on the outside looking in, this arrangement could be extremely problematic.
Finally, the loss of net neutrality could have a crippling effect on innovation. Without access to a free and open Internet, the environment for start-ups and smaller businesses will become much less hospitable. It’s hard to imagine small and modestly funded businesses competing against industry giants while using second-tier Internet access—regardless of how disruptive or innovative they may be.
What can we do?We at Bluehost have always been a proponent of using open source technologies and feel that net neutrality is vital to the health of the Internet as a whole. Please join us in this fight by contacting your local legislative leaders and let them know that you support net neutrality and are against the two-tier slow lane system.
You can also digitally sign the Battle for the Net letter that will be sent to Congress, the FCC and the White House on behalf of Internet users joining in the battle. You can learn more about the Battle for the Net and sign the letter at battleforthenet.com.
Adapted from 9/10/14 BlueHost.com/blog - Thank you BlueHost for providing this valuable insight into the potential problem facing small businesses on the Internet - Join the Battle for the Net in support of Internet freedom and against Internet slow down.