As of December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has officially rolled back net neutrality. In a 3-2 vote, the commission approved a proposal to get rid of the net neutrality rules that were put in place by the FCC in 2015.
This means Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Spectrum, Time Warner, and Comcast can manage their networks more aggressively and create preferred fast lanes for content. The vote also means it is more difficult to apply any regulatory pressure to Internet service providers as it removes the Title II classification that served as the basis for net neutrality regulations.
Opponents of the change argue that ISPs are having complete freedom over who gets to see what and when will result in higher costs for both consumers and businesses. The FCC chairman and his supporters say that regulations on the ISPs hamper innovation in the future and the Internet was working fine before the 2015 rules. Consumers didn’t agree with this argument because the overwhelming majority of them opposed the repeal when they were surveyed.
What happens now? This new rule means there are no rules. It is now legal for ISPs to block, throttle, and require paid prioritization for people to access websites they know and love. At this point, we’re trusting our Internet service providers to handle things without oversight. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) however, can still investigate service providers for anti-competitive prices, but there’s a lot of gray areas.
Since the ruling just came down moments ago, it’s too soon to say precisely what will happen for consumers and businesses. It’s a lawsuit that will be filed against the FCC in the coming days. While the commission can change rules and regulations, it is not allowed to do so without good reason. These reasons cannot be arbitrary or purely political. In court, the FCC will have to justify the 2015 rules causing harm to the Internet. The large volume of fake public comments filed with the FCC that will likely be a focus of the lawsuit, too.
The courts can halt the repeal of net neutrality rules, but it may be months before the new regulations are finalized. Internet service providers are probably already making plans to implement new non-neutral services if the FCC wins the court cases. Either way, likely, we won’t see any changes overnight.
What Non-Neutrality Could Look Like
In a non-neutrality scenario, you are Internet service provider is essentially regulating in saying if you want to pay us $50 a month, you can have access to these websites. If you’re going to pay us a little bit more say a $100 a month, you can get access to all of these 2nd tier sites so you can visit and use those services. But if you want to pay $150 a month, you can get access to all websites. This, of course, is just one of the ways a non-neutrality situation can work. There are a bunch of other possibilities. But, the idea is that ISPs can work however they want to. They are not bound by any government rule or regulation that requires them to serve the entire web equally.
What This Means for Small Business Owners
As a small business owner, this means that you may have to pay the Internet service providers a lump sum of money to ensure that your website is served to customers who subscribe to any tier. Those who don’t subscribe to whatever tier your website would be served under would not be able to access it.
With net neutrality, right now, all you have to do is register your domain and host your website. You’re on a technically even field with the major players like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. You get the same access on the ISP level as everyone else. This means there is more demand for competitive Web marketing services because there are many more businesses who need to compete and can compete. As such, there is a much less of inherent advantage for big established and rich players.
If you’re a wealthy website, you have a lot of money and a lot of resources with a lot of influence. You can say you’re not going worry about it because you know that you’ll always be in the lowest tier or what they’re providing for free because you have the money to pay the Internet service to provide. You have the influence to shape government rules and regulations. You can connect with all the different Internet service providers to make sure you’re always accessible.
This is a nightmare scenario for small business owners however because they don’t necessarily have the capital to pay off the ISPs to ensure that they are accessible at any or all levels of what consumers are paying for. It gives the already established big and rich players in the industry a substantial competitive advantage, making it tougher for small businesses to get started and to succeed.
Even still, the major players in the industry, such as Microsoft and Netflix, are speaking out against the repeal of net neutrality.
Brad Smith, Microsoft President, and Chief Legal Officer tweeted:
The open internet benefits consumers, business & the entire economy. That’s jeopardized by the FCC’s elimination of #netneutrality protections today.
— Brad Smith (@BradSmi) December 14, 2017
We’re disappointed in the decision to gut #NetNeutrality protections that ushered in an unprecedented era of innovation, creativity & civic engagement. This is the beginning of a longer legal battle. Netflix stands w/ innovators, large & small, to oppose this misguided FCC order.
— Netflix US (@netflix) December 14, 2017
This isn’t only about Netflix. Without #NetNeutrality, we would never have been able to grow into the business we have today. There’s a whole future of startups that deserve that chance.
— Netflix US (@netflix) December 14, 2017
Stay tuned, as this will no doubt remain a hot button issue in the weeks and months to come. We stand with net neutrality and believe that no ISP should control what we see, how we see it, and when we see it. Visit Save The Internet to learn more.