Chances are if you have opened a news site or turned on a news channel in the past three years or so, then you have heard about the “net neutrality” battle. Condensed to its simplest form, this issue concerns the ability of internet service providers (ISPs) — such as Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Charter and others — to “mess” with the flow of online traffic.
Namely, advocates for net neutrality, also called the “open internet,” fear that allowing ISPs to manipulate traffic speeds based on a fee-based system will mean that big players get preferential treatment while small players get edged out. For small and medium-sized businesses like yours, the danger is that your content will be delivered at a frustratingly-slow page speed compared to a brand with more national presence — and deeper pockets.
Like any issue covered by the media and sounded off on by the public, the details are more nuanced than this simplified portrayal. Now that the battle for net neutrality/open internet is being waged yet again, let us take the opportunity to elucidate the issue and spell out how it could affect you.
Wasn’t This Whole Net Neutrality Fiasco Over?
A good reason that you have been hearing about net neutrality seemingly ad nauseum is that just when the debate seems over, it pops its head up yet again. In this case, the FCC rulings passed in February of this year to reclassify ISP traffic as a “telecommunications service” à la telephone land lines has caused some contention.
Rightfully so, too. Many accuse the FCC of resorting to a lazy form of recategorization to avoid having to hammer out details on what really should have been a new classification. In their defense, the political and economic players with the most at stake would likely have made forming a new category a painful and unproductive process. Their solution to quickly recategorize intended to dodge the political circus and help take the highest stakes off the table.
Or so they thought. Now, several major ISPs have taken their case to the D.C. Circuit Court of appeals to challenge the verbiage and tact the FCC chose to preserve net neutrality. Writers like NPR’s Alina Selyukh strongly believe that the outcome of this trial will inevitably lead to another Supreme Court battle, nearly a repeat of the one in 2005.
So Why Should Business Owners Care?
To understand what is at stake for content creators and websites, consider the case of Netflix. Early last year, Netflix cut a deal with Comcast to ensure that their content delivery speed would be consistent and, more importantly, strong. Netflix did this to alleviate complaints they were receiving about video streaming quality. By going directly to Comcast, they skirted around the process that usually involves paying content delivery networks to host, implement and troubleshoot their video streams. The move saved Netflix a bundle and would supposedly have helped keep end-user costs low.
Sounds like a win all around, no? Not quite. The key issue is that once Netflix starts paying Comcast, saying, “Look, just let us deliver content straight through you and give us a good data speed, k?” a market opens up for other companies to do the same. Pretty soon, huge content players like Disney, NBCUniversal (who uncoincidentally is owned by Comcast) and others have a fast track to preferential treatment.
In the meantime, smaller business owners like you are affected in the worst way possible. There is simply no way to even enter such a market, let alone have your voice heard. The result is that a really personal injury attorney in Marietta has painfully slow page load speeds, so an impatient potential client jumps ship to a national attorney network page and gets the info they need quicker. Such a scenario is hypothetical but all too predictable given the weight multinational corporations can throw around in markets and in Congress.
Critics who have claimed that open internet somehow increases barriers to small business owners were quickly shut down in an open letter drafted in February by hundreds of said small businesses.
Since web presence is so crucial to growing businesses these days, especially for businesses who can make money through content or eCommerce platforms, the outcome of the practically-unavoidable Supreme Court case will have real effects on their bank account. Stay tuned, viewers, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
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Even with open internet in place for the time being, small businesses can have major challenges with getting their name out there online.
EverSpark is here to help. Our wide range of digital marketing services helps businesses in Atlanta and anywhere else in the world grow online so that they can grow in the real world, too. Let us be your foot in the door. Contact us to get started.