On July 12, 2017, tech giants like Amazon and Google participated in one of a string of protests to support an issue that continues to pop up among Internet users: Net Neutrality.
The idea of an Open Internet has been around as long as the Internet has been a major utility for the majority of Americans, and every few years the issue flares up again. But Net Neutrality is more than a utopian concept, the Open Internet is actually important to the life of your online business or marketing campaign.
What is Net Neutrality?
If you think of the Internet as a highway, you can imagine Net Neutrality as the idea that the laws governing that highway are fair for every driver.
Drivers in blue cars, for example, don’t get to go faster than drivers in red cars. Brown cars aren’t banned from exiting on odd numbered exits. Every car can go anywhere the driver wants, at the same speed, and their trips won’t experience any purposeful interruptions or detours.
With Net Neutrality in place, each user, whether a business or a customer, has equal access to all legal parts of the Internet, no matter how small or large. They can download what they please without being throttled, and they can visit any site they like without redirection or being slowed down as a way to discourage them.
In short, the key to understanding Net Neutrality is the “neutrality” part. Everyone is equal on the web, there’s no preferential treatment given to certain companies over others, and there’s no limiting of access to particular companies or types of businesses.
Key Points in the Net Neutrality Debate
In 2015, a new FCC regulation was put into place that makes Internet providers follow the same laws as those of any other utility provider.
The regulatory clause governing this FCC addition, known as Title II, regulates these utilities so they provide equal access, among other things, to their customers. Those in favor of keeping Net Neutrality in place are concerned that large companies that own vital backbones, like AT&T, might choose to limit or alter access to some or all of the Internet.
Others are concerned that the companies with the biggest stake in Internet services could get together and create an exploitive situation where businesses were seriously squeezed financially. That might look like slow loading times for eCommerce websites or purposeful limitation of how much traffic a server can receive every day.
This isn’t just paranoid conjecture, unfortunately. For example, AT&T and Verizon both have committed several violations in the past, including AT&T’s 2012 attempt to block the FaceTime app unless subscribers chose a high-end data plan. Similarly, from 2011 to 2013, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon worked together to block Google Wallet in order to give their own payment service, Isis, the upper hand. In another notable violation, Telus was found blocking access to a server that supported a labor strike against the company in 2005, also inadvertently blocking 766 unrelated sites.
For those in favor of removing Net Neutrality protections, the main arguments fall back to the free market. They argue that a return on investment might be stifled by regulation, thus slowing innovation in the industry. Further concerns about the overuse of bandwidth have been cited, and still others say that Net Neutrality simply isn’t needed anymore.
The Future of Net Neutrality
It’s likely that Net Neutrality news will be big in the coming weeks, since the deadline for both sides of the fight to comment is August 30.
Because of the anti-Net Neutrality position of current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, most are not hopeful that it will remain a reality for users. This could be potentially damaging to businesses that do most of their volume online. From clothing stores to consultants, the amount of data a small business can chew through is immense. If you were throttled at a particular point in your month, it might have devastating effects as customers bounce to sites that are on different networks or that have different plans.
It’s difficult to know what would happen, ultimately, if Title II were to exclude Internet companies. Congress could step in and make Net Neutrality a law, rather than an FCC regulation, though some are concerned this would make it possible for lobbyists for particular providers to seek out terms that are favorable for their parent companies. However, a Congressional protection would be much more difficult to reverse, no matter how it were to enact Net Neutrality.
Until this matter is decided, it’s best for businesses and digital marketers to double down with sleeker, faster loading pages and pieces. It’s a good idea anyway, not just for when you’re facing having to pick and choose how you use your bandwidth.