You may have heard the term “net neutrality” and know that it relates to access to content on the internet. What you may not realize is how the concept of net neutrality affects your small business.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the concept that all content on the internet should be accessible equally. That Internet Service Providers should not treat some content differently than others depending on the customer or company’s ability to pay more. This ensures the free and just flow of information to all Americans. Senator Al Franken called Net Neutrality the “First Amendment issue of our time.”
This would further disadvantage mom-and-pop businesses who struggle to be seen amid companies who can afford pricey advertisements.
Elsie Gilmore, Owner – Solid Red Studios
Since the 1990’s, net neutrality has been a topic of controversy among internet service providers who argue that not all content is created equal. Some content, like video, is very resource intensive to deliver, while text and still images take less bandwidth.
Some corporations feel that they should be able to pay more to allow their content to be delivered faster. This would mean that if Walmart, a very wealthy corporation, paid more, their website would load faster than your local restaurants and coffee shops. If used as a money-making endeavor, an internet service provider could actually slow down the coffee shop’s website unless they paid up to make it deliver faster.
In 2010, the FCC passed the FCC Open Internet Order, which prevented cable television and telephone companies from preventing access from competitors or streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix. They also created a set of principles to govern the internet that included the concepts of transparency, no blocking, level playing field, network management, mobility and vigilance in enforcing the rules. These actions still allowed internet service providers to offer services of different speeds, but the speed had to apply to all websites equally.
On January 23, 2017, President Donald Trump chose Ajit Pai to chair the Federal Communications Commission. Mr. Pai is a vocal critic of the current net neutrality regulations and will have the authority to reverse the safeguards that were put in place. Some critics of net neutrality think internet customers should pay according to what type of content they use, like with television station packages. But if a customer paid for a package that was only for streaming video content or only for using social media, they may not have the ability to see your website, and if they did, it might load so slowly that the person wouldn’t wait. Bigger companies would have the ability to pay for faster loading of their site, and customers could (but probably wouldn’t) pay extra to see your content.
As you can see, this would be a huge problem for small businesses who already get lost in the shuffle of the vastness of the world wide web. This would further disadvantage mom-and-pop businesses who struggle to be seen amid companies who can afford pricey advertisements.
What can you do?
There are several things you can do to try to prevent the internet from becoming a restricted place where customers have less access to your website.
- Follow this website and take the actions they suggest.
- Contact your federal legislators to find out where they stand on net neutrality. Tell them how attempts to restrict content on the internet would affect your small business or non-profit. You can find your legislators here.
- Print and hang this poster in your shop window if you have a brick-and-mortar. Or, you can put this symbol on your website. If your customers ask, explain to them what net neutrality is and how important it is to your small business. Let them know how they can fight for it also.
To see a visual representation of the issues surrounding Net Neutrality, check out the infographic on this page.