Once a month, I write breakdowns on current events to help online business owners who care stay up to speed and have a chance to use their platform to take a stand. This is one of those breakdowns. The rest of the month, I write about kinder ways of doing marketing, about taking a stand for what you believe in, and about CEO activism. I write about all of this stuff because I believe that kind business can change the world. To get regular updates, click here to sign up for the free newsletter BOSSES THAT CARE.
I’m sure you’ve been hearing a lot of talk about net neutrality. From my newsfeed, I can tell that the people in my world are generally not in favor of what’s going on.
But what is net neutrality (NN) really, and what’s currently happening to it?
I got you. Here’s your quick breakdown if you’ve been curious but haven’t had time to do research.
1) Net neutrality, as I’ve come to understand it, is equal access to getting data and creating data on the Internet. While it’s not certain that it will cost consumers more money, it’s likely that companies might pass their increased charge to get faster service onto the consumer. The concept of NN is meant to protect the consumer from being screwed over and stops cable companies from reducing speed or blocking certain sites and apps. John Oliver, in a segment from 2015, wanted to call it “preventing cable company fuckery.” You choose which one you prefer. :)
If you wanna’ go down the rabbit hole with me: You gotta’ know who Tim Wu is. He’s known for bringing the concept of NN to the forefront with an academic paper he wrote in 2003 called Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination. In a piece from November 2017, he wrote, “What has changed since 2004 that now makes the blocking or throttling of competitors not a problem? The evidence points strongly in the opposite direction: There is a long history of anticompetitive throttling and blocking — often concealed — that the F.C.C. has had to stop to preserve the health of the internet economy. Examples include AT&T’s efforts to keep Skype off iPhones and the blocking of Google Wallet by Verizon. Services like Skype and Netflix would have met an early death without basic net neutrality protections. Mr. Pai needs to explain why we no longer have to worry about this sort of threat — and “You can trust your cable company” will not suffice.”
2) The problem is that the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) wants to roll back regulations on NN.
3) Why? Great question. Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman, says that the NN rules are, to quote Bridget Read, “...a government overreach that has depressed business development.”More specifically, he thinks that the rules are slowing down how much broadband companies can afford to invest in growth. Apparently, a big piece of his plan is to bar the states from passing pro-neutrality rules too.
4) So is he right? Maaaaybe. After just two years of the rules being in effect, we can’t be sure. Steve Kovach, a writer on Business Insider, thinks so and says, “But even when you look at the data most favorable to Pai's position, it doesn't prove net-neutrality regulations have resulted in significantly lower broadband investment from telecom companies. At worst, investment has been flat since 2013. At best, it's increased.”
5) What else do they anti-net neutrality people say? That the rules put into place in 2015 were an overreach of government regulations. Like the whole the government has too much power, and why should they be able to dictate what I do in my business? This is Amuuurica.
6) And what does everyone else say? Mozilla ran a poll in June 2017 that showed it was less of a bipartisan issue than it may seem. 76% of Americans overall support NN with the party percentages being 81% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans. No data was provided on Independents for support of NN. FINALLY, the poll also showed that 78% of Americans don’t trust Congress to protect their access to the Internet. WHAT? You don't say.
7) How will this affect small business on the Internet? That’s what I wanted to know, too. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn of the FCC and a huge proponent of net neutrality said, “Sole proprietors, whose entire business model, depends on an open internet, are worried that the absence of clear and enforceable net neutrality protections will result in higher costs and fewer benefits because you see: they are not able to pay tolls for premium access. Even large online businesses have weighed in, expressing concern about being subject to added charges as they simply try to reach their own customers.”
8) So now what? The FCC did indeed vote to repeal the NN rules that have been in place since 2005. Ajit Pai says he’s ready for the many lawsuits that will arrive on his doorstep. In the meantime, a group of democrats are attempting to put together legislation that would go over the heads of the FCC and bring back the old rules. It’s unclear on whether they’ll gain significant traction with that.
So what do I think? If you’re curious, I think the costs of repealing the net neutrality, particularly in the long-term, would outweigh any of the theoretical benefits. Some fans of net neutrality, like the economist Katz, theorizes it would reduce costs for low-income families. While the data doesn’t support that theory, the cost of thwarted innovation for startup companies, to me, seems like the greatest loss.
We’ll see what’s next to come with NN.