You may have heard the term net neutrality, or open web, and you may think you know what it means. Or, for some, it may just be some relatively obscure sounding topic that only web developers need to worry about. Net neutrality is not obscure and it is something that just about anyone in the free market, whether entrepreneur or consumer, should understand.
Net neutrality means, essentially, that anytime you log on to the web, regardless of your Internet service provider, you have full and free access to the entire web. Yes, you pay a monthly fee for the ISP, but that’s just the door that gets you into the web. Without net neutrality, your ISP could limit your access to certain sites and certain areas of the web unless you pay additionally for that access. It’s like walking through the front door for a fee, but then being charged another fee to walk through any door inside.
Additionally, cash flush websites have the ability in a non-net neutral world to pay ISPs to allow access to their sites by the ISPs customers. This may sound like a great scenario if you’re an ISP. Being paid off by big money websites and by customers who desire greater web access is a win-win. But for many small businesses who rely on the Internet for marketing, leads and sales, losing net neutrality could cause disproportionate harm.
Why should you care?
If you’re a web marketer, you should care about net neutrality for the following reasons:
- Net neutrality creates an even playing field.
- More Competition – Websites compete but don’t have to “pay to play”
- More Players on the Field – Anyone can get in on the game.
- Less Advantage for Rich, Established Players – Big and rich websites have an inherent advantage over smaller or start up sites if the web is not neutral.
- It’s less expensive to get started online – It’s simple to register a site and get hosting. The playing field is even and your site gets the same accessibility as everybody else for no additional cost to you. Also, there isn’t an additional process of working with and paying ISPs to ensure our accessibility.
- Non-net neutrality is more fair – Rather than pay to play, it’s your site’s quality, talent, strategy and marketing that determines if you succeed or fail.
What could happen in a non-net neutral world?
Fast Lanes – Most people watching this issue believe that in a closed web, “fast lanes” could arise as the default. In this scenario, certain parts of the web will get the fastest access, leaving others slower or even denied by some ISPs.
Free vs. Paid – There is likely to be some access that remains free but more that will be subject to fees. This is not allowed under current rules, even though T-Mobile tried this already.
Payoff for Access or Speed – Consumers will have to pay more to ISPs for access and faster access. But businesses will also pay ISPs to allow consumers who may not be able to pay for access to get to them. So, the ISPs get paid either way.
Why is maintaining an open web so critical right now?
It’s critical right now because the new Trump Administration, and particularly his choice for FCC Chair, Ajit Pai, have placed net neutrality at high risk. Big name ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Cox have put big money into lobbying the Republican held government to change the laws to close an already open web.
In fact, Chairman Pai has already reversed some rulings that had required transparency among smaller ISPs regarding their net neutrality policies. Pai wants people to believe that non-net neutrality is actually free market. But that’s the exact opposite. Net neutrality creates a marketplace that is truly equal for everyone.
And the American people support net neutrality. A recent Gallup poll showed that among Democrats 81% are in favor. The percentage is even higher among Republicans, at 85%. The only real fight being waged is by big ISPs and their lobbyists to influence the political agenda for their own gains.
How you can fight back.
There are plenty of ways you can fight to keep your Internet open and neutral. Contact your congress person or senator. With the aforementioned poll numbers supporting net neutrality, make sure your representatives keep that in mind. You can also go to SaveTheInternet.com and sign the petition. This site is for US citizens only, but if you are in another country, you should look into what your government may or may not be doing on this issue.
Net neutrality is a hot button issue of the moment, and anyone who uses the web and wants to continue having free access to all of it should understand just what it could mean if they lose that neutrality.