Under President Trump, the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) plans to change "net neutrality" rules have unleashed a wave of intense debate. The current internet regulations were adopted during the Obama administration. However, the debate over net neutrality is complex and based on some outdated assumptions.
Net neutrality or internet neutrality is a principle that all internet traffic should be treated the same. The 2015 regulations barred internet service providers (ISPs) from prioritizing traffic or slowing heading to certain websites or services. Having a wide-open internet ideally ensures the ability to conduct business and access sites without interference from a third party, such as government censorship or ISPs charging sites to be on so-called "internet fast lanes."
The FCC plan received instant reactions from people on either side of the debate. Since it was announced, over 21 million comments pro and con the change were sent to the FCC, and more than 750,000 people contacted Congress to voice opposition. The big technology companies, including Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix and Twitter have expressed their disapproval.
Current Reality Versus the FCC Proposal
The net neutrality debate hinges on a belief that internet traffic is neutral. However, it is not really neutral now, which could be why the technology titans do not want changes. The web giants have already established "peering" relationships with the big ISPs to improve connection and download speeds. These connections bypass the traditional internet and actually create fast lanes.
The heart of the FCC's proposed 2017 changes deals with the Obama administration's move to call ISPs and broadband firms as "common carriers," a legal term that governs their responsibilities for goods (or people) during transport and the regulatory control of it. Interstate airlines, phone companies, oil pipelines and utility transmission lines are examples of other common carriers.
Specifically, the FCC has proposed to:
- Reclassify broadband internet access as an "information service" (a service that offers, collects and stores information). This allows for regulation based on the content, not the means.
- Stop classifying mobile broadband as a "commercial mobile service" like mobile phones and subject to regulations that affect them.
- Redirect authority from the FCC to the Federal Trade Commission to control ISP privacy practices.
- Eliminate the vague "general internet conduct standard," which gave the FCC far-reaching discretion to prohibit ISP practices that it believes run afoul of the longstanding commitment to internet freedom.
Proponents say changes are needed to further nationwide broadband deployment and infrastructure investment, particularly in rural areas. They maintain that requiring ISPs to comply with "unnecessary" regulatory requirements detracts from their ability to invest in their businesses. The FCC proposal says nothing about eliminating net neutrality but leaves in question how infrastructure improvements will be required or financed.
Both sides of the internet debate claim to be preserving freedom--that's freedom from regulation on the FCC side and freedom from predatory practices per the opposition. It seems likely, however, that dismantling the current regulatory environment in favor of one focused on the information it provides will ultimately impact traffic on the information superhighway for business owners and consumers.
How will this affect you?
The proposed regulatory changes could potentially lead to a number of scenarios that are unfavorable to both consumers and businesses. They include:
Pay-for-performance scenarios for sites: ISPs may start charging sites for high speed access. Sites that can afford this sort of 'payola' might pay up (or could reject this on principle), while small or mid-sized businesses attempting to grow on the internet could be shut out. Your own website could easily be affected if you don't have the budget to buy high speeds.
Slow performance is bad in and of itself, but it also impacts a site's search ranking on Google. Consequently, if your competitors can afford to pay ISPs more, they'll be in a better marketing position, too.
These issues will also apply to your partners and the cloud-based tools you use on a daily basis. Your project management or email software might slow down too, causing major issues for your essential business processes.
Packaged deals between ISPs and preferred apps: This is similar to ordering cable with HBO thrown in--you could find that certain apps or websites will pay to get facetime with ISP customers in another form of preferential treatment. Consequently, you could need to pay more to access the apps that you rely on for business.
Other types of preferential treatment are likely, too, including higher prices for infrastructure changes.
All in all, it seems that the majority of US businesses--including professional services firms--will lose out if this reversal of net neutrality rules moves forward as expected.
Want to take action?
You can submit a comment to the FCC by doing the following:
- Go here.
- Click "+Express."
- Enter your name and other information. Be sure to hit the enter key afterwards so it registers.
- Provide your thoughts.
- Click "Continue to review screen" and then select "Submit."
A note: Submitting your name and personal information to the public comments on the FCC website makes them publicly available.
You can also call your members of Congress and urge them to take a stand.