Net Neutrality Impacts Us All

I wrote a post about this back in 2014 when the current net neutrality policy was being developed and it still holds up today – as far as the arguments for why this is so important.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have surely heard about the FCC’s latest proposal, ironically entitled “Restoring Internet Freedom” and net neutrality concerns. To sum it up, back in 2015 the FCC voted to place Internet Service Providers (ISPs) into Title II or “common carrier” classification. By doing this, ISPs are effectively prohibited from charging more for content based on its type or originating domain. ISPs are treated like public utilities under this classification. This is a major simplification, but it is the essence of what happened then and what is in jeopardy of happening now.

The new proposal, which is currently expected to pass the FCC by a 3-2 vote on December 14th, would reclassify ISPs under Title I rather than Title II, which would give them much, much greater freedom to start to charge customers very differently for internet access. There has been a lot of talk about so-called “fast lanes” that ISPs could create and then charge businesses, customers or both more to access. Advocates for net neutrality (of which I am one) argue that the internet must not be allowed to be delivered in this manner. Corporations should not have the right to determine what people access and charge them differently for different types of content. This is not to say that corporations should not have the right to have tiered access plans, but those plans should be based on criteria like connection speed and total amount of data consumed in a given time period only.

Big internet based companies have come out in opposition to rolling back the current net neutrality status (post via Business Insider). ISPs have been less strident in their support of net neutrality, and tend to just take a stance of “trust us, we promise we won’t change the way we deliver the internet to our customers”. Uh huh, pardon me if I don’t trust that.

Why Not Just Trust ISPs To Not Jack Up Internet Access Pricing?

Well, for one thing, as this ruling gets closer to becoming reality, Comcast – one of the titans in this scenario – has shifted their language regarding things they may or may not do when/if the rules change. Arstechnia has a write up on this. As does the Denver Post.

Comcast deleted a “no paid prioritization” pledge from its net neutrality webpage on the very same day that the Federal Communications Commission announced its initial plan to repeal net neutrality rules.

To be fair, I am not really trying to single out Comcast here, they have just gotten the most attention on this during this go-round so far. I fully expect that ISPs will play follow the leader, much like airlines have done.

This Forbes post outlines what could potentially happen for consumers.

Won’t The Free Market Just Take Care Of This?

The argument here should be more valid than it is. This position in favor of changing current net neutrality regulations being argued for because it won’t matter a lot – companies won’t be able to make that many changes to how we get the internet, their customers won’t stand for it. Uh huh. Except that many ISPs operate as de facto monopolies. I live in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, a very well developed area. We have 2 choices for internet access – Comcast or Verizon. Many places have only 1 choice. You know how people bitch about their cable services? What would make anyone think that ISPs would be any better if they could squeeze more dollars out of you to access your favorite sites? If there were true, viable alternatives that were not doing that which customers could choose, then yes, the natural competitive forces would keep the big guys from going too nuts. But, that dynamic does not exist in this marketplace.

And What Does This Mean For Businesses?

Exactly what will happen is not clear, but if ISPs can start prioritizing content and charging more for different kinds, it stands to reason that this creates an advantage for larger businesses versus smaller ones. I would argue that larger businesses already have significant competitive advantages in the online space right now and this kind of change could very well institutionalize that advantage even further. They already have more money to spend on paid search and placements imagine if they make deals with ISPs to prioritize their content over competitors.

I worry about this as a PPC pro who works with smaller entities. I have seen it become more and more difficult and more and more expensive for smaller, local businesses to reach potential customers online. It used to be a lot easier and a lot less expensive. Yes, they have access more easily to more potential customers with the ubiquity of cell phones and people’s constant connections online, but competing with the big or even medium sized entities gets harder all the time for these businesses. I hate to think of them becoming even more disadvantaged through all of this.

What Can You Do?

If this is an issue you care about (and I would argue as PPC pros we absolutely should care about this, big time) you can do a few things – contact the FCC directly and also contact your elected officials and let them know that maintaining net neutrality is something that is important to you and worth fighting for.

To contact the FCC either go here and submit the form or call them at 1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322). The vote on this matter is currently scheduled for December 14, 2017.

Contact your elected officials. Not sure of their contact info? This site, Common Cause, will find it for you.

What Do You Think?

Love to hear from you – as always, either sound off in the comments or hit me up on Twitter (@NeptuneMoon).

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