Every few years, Net Neutrality and the concepts of Open Internet are challenged at the Federal Communications Commission. You may have seen something about it in the news, or on your social media feeds. You may not understand all that "techy" stuff -- most of us have people for that. You may have thought that this decision doesn't affect you at all.
Wrong! It affects us all, from consumers to business owners.
"Without net neutrality, an internet provider can say that they won't support Netflix very well, because they're partnered with their own On Demand film service."
Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. Simply put Internet providers will treat all web traffic equally. A free and open internet protects freedom of speech, prevent unfair pricing practices, and drives entrepreneurship.
Many companies you know and love have had humble beginnings on an open internet, and started in garages and dorm rooms. Had there been no open internet model, we would have never seen awesome companies such as Facebook, Twitter, NetFlix, YouTube, Reddit, and so many others. Simply put: they would have not been able to afford the premium access that their services needed in order to function.
Another thing to consider is money. If your favorite video streaming service is forced to pay for premium fast-lane service in order to deliver you content quickly, those extra infrastructure costs get passed onto the consumer. Imagine that convenient video-on-demand service you love so much -- currently under $10 a month -- being forced to charge you cable TV rates in order to stay in business, just to provide you with the content you love. Most consumers would probably bail.
What about that free online university you've been using to learn a new trade? Without access to that fast lane, they might not be able to provide content to their students. Non-profits are at a huge risk!
Let's say you want to purchase that new novel you've been looking forward to, an alternator for your car, and a pair of wooden clogs from that online marketplace you like to buy from. Uh oh. Your ISP has partnered with a different online store, and they're slowing down the speed of your normal online marketplace because, well, they want you to use their service instead.
Don't think that would happen?
As a small business owner: let's say you run a local florist shop. You just launched a great new website where you can take orders online, and schedule deliveries to anyone in town. Now let's say that the internet is suddenly divided up into "lanes", but you, as a small business owner, can't afford to pay for that premium fast lane hosting for your website--but guess who can?
Your national competitor: 1-800-National-Flower-Delivery-People.com. They make enough money as a large corporation to pay for that premium lane usage, this making their website and web content take priority over yours. They paid for the Porsche, but you can only afford rollerskates.
With open internet, you are on equal footing with everyone. You can open a cool new streaming video service providing VR videos without the risk of one of the large telecom companies clamping down on your bandwidth because it would be in competition with their cable packaging, which may not even be a VR service.
As a website design company, we understand why open internet is vital to the companies and nonprofits we serve. Most consumers want to see that a company has a website in addition to a social media presence before they would consider that company a legitimate business. An online presence can make or break a company, and limiting open internet would hurt small and local businesses, ourselves (and our competitors!) included.
One of our good friends had this analogy the last time Net Neutrality was threatened:
THIS IS IMPORTANT:
The electric company.
You're a good customer, you pay your bills, things are fabulous.
Then one day, you come home and your lights don't work. At best they're very dim.
You call the electric company and they tell you that they don't support your brand of bulbs. In order to get full illumination from a light bulb, you have to buy the brand that they've partnered with.
You've always liked your bulbs. They're a good value, they last a long time, and you have a number of replacements in your closet.
But, since your electric company doesn't support them, you either have to buy new bulbs or switch electricity providers.
Problem is, if you change your electricity provider, your bulbs will work fine, but your microwave will only work at 50% capacity.
This is the world without provider neutrality.
Basically "neutrality" means that (in this example) your electric company is neutral on what brands of electronic devices you use. You can use whatever you want, and they'll give you the electricity to run it.
Now, imagine the electric company is actually your internet provider. The light bulbs and microwaves are actually your favorite websites (Facebook, Netflix, ESPN-dot-com, your fantasy sports league site, your favorite trusted news site.)
Without net neutrality, an Internet provider can say that they won't support Netflix very well because they're partnered with their own On Demand film service. You will be seriously hindered in your ability to follow your news website because they'd rather you follow the other guys.
Net neutrality is about your freedom to select an internet provider, then choose what websites you visit without the internet provider encumbering your efforts.
There's a lot of jargon and political buzzwords getting thrown around, and frankly, they don't mean shit. It's not a political issue. It's an issue of choice and it's an issue of freedom.
If you like the way the internet works, now, where you can shop at any website with equal ease, then you support net neutrality.
If you are for an open internet, you have until July 17th to register a complaint with the FCC, and tell them that you support Net Neutrality and Open Internet.