But first, what is net neutrality?
Net neutrality ensures the Internet remains an even playing field, where Internet providers are required to treat all web content equally. The FCC’s net neutrality rules once meant that all websites would receive equal treatment by carriers, meaning that all content would be delivered and at equal speeds.
However, on January 14th of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC didn’t have the right to enforce net neutrality. According to a Wired.com article entitled “Federal Court Guts Net Neutrality Rules,” “If the decision stands, broadband providers are likely to implement pay-to-play plans like the one AT&T announced [in January]—plans that many said violated, at a minimum, the spirit of net neutrality.”
While the FCC received more than one million public net neutrality comments, George Washington University law professor Richard Pierce explains, “The vast majority of the comments are utterly worthless.” Especially when paired with “the very lengthy, very well-tailored comments that include a lot of discussion of legal issues, a lot of discussion of policy issues, lots of data, lots of analysis. Those are submitted exclusively by firms that have a large amount of money at stake in the rule-making and the lawyers and trade associations that are represented by those firms.”
How does this impact small business?
Brian Sutter, author and Director of Marketing at Wasp, detailed three potential ways changes to net neutrality could impact small business:
1. Higher Costs. With changes to net neutrality rules, Internet providers could begin implementing varying payment plans, potentially charging higher fees for higher Internet speeds. Not all businesses can afford these higher fees, meaning that their content would be competing with content delivered at much faster speeds, edging many of them out of the marketplace.
2. No Longer an Even Playing Field. The great thing about the Internet of the past is that a one-man company with a stellar idea had the same potential Internet exposure as the bigger corporations with larger marketing budgets and professional web designers. As Sutter explains, “If net neutrality is eliminated, small businesses may not be able to afford to share content and therefore, unable to compete with their larger competitors.”
3. Changes to Video Marketing. Many small businesses rely on product and other promotional videos they post, for free, to YouTube. This becomes a key strategy in their marketing plans, which will be severely hindered, if not incapacitated, once net neutrality is eliminated. Unable to pay the costs to Internet providers to share this content will greatly impair their marketing efforts.
It’s important that small businesses be aware of how changes to net neutrality rules can impact their profitability and success. Following this key issue, and becoming involved when possible, can influence the course net neutrality takes and how much it ultimately impacts your business.
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Hu, Elise. “1 Million Net Neutrality Comments Filed, but Will They Matter?” 21 July 2014 NPR.com
Kravets, David. “Federal Court Guts Net Neutrality Rules.” 14 January 2014 Wired.com
Sutter, Brian. “How Net Neutrality Affects Small Business.” WaspBarcode.com