What the Fight for Net Neutrality Means for My Business Part 2

With the FCC’s vote to end net neutrality, I wanted to write a response since I originally posted my views here. I know this is a charged topic that people feel passionate about, so before I begin, I just want to say that both sides of the argument have merit. I want to share my feelings and point of view. It doesn’t mean I’m right, I’m just trying to make the best decisions with the information that I have. If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. Should you want to talk more about it, please comment.

Back in July I posted about the FCC opening up a period of comments so people could let the FCC know where they stood on ending the net neutrality rules that were enacted in 2015 during Obama’s presidency. In order to understand net neutrality, you have to understand where the internet service providers (ISPs) have come from.

A Brief History of Internet Service Providers and Net Neutrality

Traditionally, ISPs offered a certain amount of bandwidth to customers per unit of time, say for example, 300GB per month. The idea was that customers would rarely, if ever reach this maximum bandwidth. This was before Netflix, Youtube, and Hulu. After video streaming services came around, customers started maxing out their usage, ramping up costs for ISPs.

In response to this, ISPs had to come up with something new. One of the more common solutions was to throttle download speeds after that bandwidth usage had been reached. Other solutions that appeared included selling “packages” of internet website similar to what you would see with cable packages offering different channels.

Net neutrality opposes all of these changes. In 2015 ISPs were redefined as utility companies and net neutrality regulations that had historically been shot down by the courts, were suddenly passed.

What those rules say is that all internet traffic is treated equally. Meaning that you can’t slow down traffic, you can’t deny access to certain websites—everything is open. That’s why you can pay X amount of dollars per month and stream video to your heart’s content for hours a day. In theory, it sounds great. I mean, why would you want to limit your internet usage?

Joining the Movement of Supporting Net Neutrality

Last year’s presidential elections shook things up. The FCC chair, Ajit Pai, put forth a proposal to end the Obama era regulations. A comment period was opened up for people to express their concerns or support regarding the proposal. Millions of people reached out to their representatives in support of net neutrality and maintaining these regulations. Many organizations, such as the Mozilla Foundation, made it easier to reach out to local representatives by preparing comments in advance so you’d just have to select your state and off your comment went. By the end of the comment period, I believe it was over 10 million comments that had been submitted.

I found out about this commenting period through Mozilla. They invited me to submit a comment to my local representatives, which I did. I also told my family about it and wrote a blog post in support of it. I felt good and a sense of unity with individuals and organizations that were in support of net neutrality.

The Decision is Made

After Thursday’s vote of 3-2 in favor of peeling back the regulations around net neutrality, I realized I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ruling. Initially, I felt the internet and freedom had taken a step back. Organizations that I believed had the best interests of the internet in mind had strongly supported keeping the regulations. At the same time, I felt President Trump had generally done a good job at being President and he’d chosen Ajit Pai as FCC chairman. Maybe rolling back the regulations wasn’t such a bad thing? Needless to say, there was some cognitive dissonance. I’m sure I’m not alone. I came to the conclusion that I’d never looked at the argument for both sides originally, instead, going with the crowd that shouted the loudest. I was back at square one in my decision to either agree or disagree with the decision.

Since I played the evangelist in support of net neutrality, I felt I had a good enough grasp on that point of view. So I conducted research in support of repealing net neutrality regulations. Those articles are hard to find given the out-of-this-world reaction to the FCC’s proposal and subsequent vote to repeal. After weighing the pros and cons of both sides, I have decided to support the rolling back of net neutrality regulations. Let me explain my reasoning.

The Market Will Adapt

One of the major concerns of proponents of net neutrality is the creation of “fast lanes” for the internet. That is, those that pay more, get better access and higher speeds. While this remains to be seen, the history of the internet is one of constant change. The development of the internet up to the present day has largely been due to the market regulation rather than governments enacting laws. As Ajit Pai said in his statement, “The sky isn’t falling and consumers will remain protected and the internet will flourish…Title II did not create the open internet and Title II isn’t necessary to maintain it”. If the internet thrived previous to the 2015 regulations, it seems odd that removing those regulations would cause it’s destruction. Fast lanes may become a reality but the market will adjust and this fear is not sufficient to hold on to net neutrality.

Furthermore, the toll that video streaming services take on ISPs is large. It seems natural that if Netflix for example, is the cause an ISP’s bandwidth being sucked up and increasing their costs, Netflix share in some of the expenses or some other agreement is worked out. With the rollback of the regulations, ISPs will have more freedom to tier their services to include or deny specific services. This will trickle down and benefit the customer.

An Example

For example, a person who only wants “basic internet”–surfing the web, email, etc..–would pay less than someone who wants only unlimited video streaming for Netflix. Or the old-timer who only needs to check their email would pay less than both. I’m not saying that’s how it will be set up but you get what you pay for. Ajit Pai has also said that the decision includes, “Powerful legal checks” to stop ISPs from taking advantage of the customer.

While this may seem scary and unfair at first, again, this is where the market comes into play. If the ISPs don’t adapt to this in a way that customers approve of, they lose customers. If customers are lost, new companies arise that are better able to reflect the needs of the market. That competition could potentially end regional monopolies as companies are able to expand their network which could result in a better and faster internet for all. Or it might not. Either, way, I believe it’s worth the risk.

What Does This Mean for my Company?

The short answer is, it’s hard to say. Many startup companies are in support of net neutrality because it levels the playing field for new companies. Under current regulations, it’s easier to be found online because all traffic is considered the same. Video streaming isn’t being prioritized over your efforts to gain business. With the repeal of the rules, startups may have a more difficult time being found online. But again, it’s speculation. Only time will tell. In any case, what companies need to do is adapt. That might include more marketing offline or finding alternative avenues to gain customers. Those that are able to adapt won’t be affected as much as those who aren’t able to adapt. That’s what competition in the marketplace is all about after all.

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