Small businesses should work to save the open Internet (a.k.a., “net neutrality”). Why? The reason is simple: under current FCC rules, Internet service providers (ISPs) cannot slow down, impede, or block, or charge higher fees for distributing data from any source. This means that content uploaded by small business and individuals enjoys the same access to distribution as that from large companies. When the Internet is regulated as a public utility (under current practice), visitors can access information from all websites like this.
Early indications from the Trump administration hint that such neutrality might be in danger. The mega-ISPs—Cox, Charter (also owner of Time Warner), Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon—would like to charge businesses a fee to have access to high speed distribution of content on the Internet. Such a fee would be in addition to their fees for connection to the Internet. Failure to pay could mean that a business would encounter a delay in displaying content or even failure to have content transmitted at all. Small businesses could suffer lost revenue compared to large corporations who would be able to pay the additional fee.
As previously mentioned in my post on long-form marketing, businesses and organizations are increasingly using video and other longer content pieces to tell their story. What happens if their sites take longer to load than those of larger, wealthier competitors?
If you run a small business that sells a product or a service, you could be forced to pay “protection money” to compete. After all, you can’t afford to have potential clients fall off your site simply out of frustration. And we humans get frustrated quickly: remember how often other drivers (not you, of course!) jump around slowed or stopped traffic to get ahead or into a faster lane. On the Internet, people will jump off your site in just a few seconds. In fact, most viewers spend less than 15 seconds on your website. If they can’t see your site or crucial information (such as a video) quickly, they will go to a competitor’s site.
All of a sudden, that protection money begins to sound like a deal, if not a good one for you.
Imagine being told by a company like Comcast that in order to allow your users to continue to browse your site at high speeds, you will need to pay a hefty fee for data prioritization. You would almost assuredly not be able to make those payments. On the other hand, your multi-million dollar competitors, whether they be Walmart or another big box store, have almost infinite funds to make sure their website speeds are consistent. This, in effect, could put a small shop out of business because of how important internet traffic is to its bottom line.
Kevin Green, “How Changes to Net Neutrality Laws Could Affect Small Businesses,” 2/22/2017.
With the appointment of Ajit Pai as the new FCC Chairman, threats to an open Internet have already surfaced.
From left: FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly.
The camel’s nose under the tent could be an emerging practice known as zero-rating. Large providers of streaming content—T-Mobile (with its “Binge On” program), Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Comcast—have begun offering consumers video content that would not count toward their data use quotas, that would be “zero-rated.” This creates a situation where an ISP such as Comcast could discriminate against another content-providing ISP such as Verizon. A precedent is then established to create rival toll roads whereby content providers would have to pay to get their content distributed universally. The situation is quite complicated. The best explanation that I’ve seen is by Jeff Dunn, “Trump’s new FCC boss has already set the stage for a less-open internet,” in Business Insider, 2/9/2017.
The previous FCC was investigating the effects of zero-rating on businesses. When Chairman Pai took over, he stopped the investigation, stating that the practice benefited consumers without undue harm to business. In fact, the FCC under his leadership appears to be poised to reduce or reverse regulations so as to allow ISPs to begin to charge content providers differently for premium speed access. That has not yet occurred, but it seems very possible.
What to do? If your livelihood depends on your small business’s access to an open Internet, contact the FCC commissioners. Also contact your local Congressional representatives. For an excellent summary of the historical, technological, economic, and cultural issues regarding the threats to the open Internet, see Quincy Larson’s recent post, “The Future of the Open Internet—and Our Way of Life—Is in Your Hands.” See also Thom Hartmann’s piece on how big ISPs plan to see your information with Congress’s (i.e., Republicans’) approval. Don’t be caught unaware of what’s happening!