What does net neutrality mean for small businesses?

Over the past couple of months, the net neutrality debate has taken the internet by storm. It’s not a new issue, but it has returned to the spotlight because the new FCC commissioner Ajit Varadaraj Pai led the FCC to vote in May 2017 to overturn its 2015 decision to maintain strong net neutrality laws in the United States. But what is net neutrality and what does it mean for small businesses?

Net neutrality defined

Net neutrality is the principle that all content on the internet should be given equal (or “neutral”) priority. This means internet service providers (ISPs) do not have the power or authority to block certain content or slow it down. The FCC’s 2015 rules prohibit ISPs from blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization — “fast lanes” for sites that pay, and slow lanes for everyone else.

Unlike many political issues, net neutrality is not a partisan topic, but is instead a matter of telecommunications companies fighting consumers. Even though party lines are beginning to be drawn on the issue, it hasn’t always been that way. Net neutrality rules were first established in 2004 by then-chairman Michael Powell, a Republican. The aforementioned 2015 rules were established by then-chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat.

MPWR Design is not a political organization. We don’t seek to get involved in partisan politics. Our focus is on helping you create the best website you can, and net neutrality is essential in seeing that happen. The vast majority of our clients are small businesses and entrepreneurs and MPWR Design is itself a small business, so our interests here aren’t in promoting a political agenda or party but instead in supporting what’s best for small businesses.

How does net neutrality affect small businesses?

Ending net neutrality would provide ISPs with several opportunities. Cable companies, cell phone service providers, and other telecom companies could charge websites to be part of a “fast lane” offering speedier service. In other words, companies that pay would have their content loaded faster than companies that don’t. As you can probably tell, this would open up new revenue streams for telecom companies, but it means bad news for small businesses.

Large video companies like Netflix, YouTube, and so on would probably start a bidding war to be a part of the “fast lane” (and it should be noted that Netflix and others oppose ending net neutrality anyway) to ensure their content loads quickly. The same goes for large data companies like Dropbox and Adobe. However, small businesses would struggle to keep up. While large companies have the resources to pay thousands of dollars (or possibly more!) for the “fast lane,” most small businesses don’t have those resources. And it wouldn’t even mean paying one company — you’d have to pay every telecom company individually to serve your content faster to their customers. Without net neutrality rules, ISPs could even block your site entirely if you don’t pay them to serve your content to their customers.

What can you do?

Since the FCC’s decision is still in process and changes won’t be finalized until the end of the year, there’s still plenty of time to do something. Battle for the Net provides an easy way to contact the FCC and Congress. You can also check there to see where your local politicians stand on the issue, and the site also provides you with a way to contact them.