On May 15, 2014, the FCC proposed new rules to govern internet access. The new plan would allow internet service providers (ISPs) to charge extra to large companies like Google or AT&T for preferential treatment (such as faster delivery of information). The problem with this is that it then creates a two-tiered internet: a superhighway for businesses who can afford to pay and a dirt road for all of us smaller businesses. You can read more about net neutrality in our blog post from last month: Should You Care About Net Neutrality?
But why should you care anyway? Internet is still internet, right? Well, actually, it’s not. Net Neutrality is the definition of an open internet and it ensures our right to communicate freely. Without it, the internet is up for bid and those with the most money will have the most control not only over what sort of information you can send as a business but also over what your clients can receive as consumers. Without net neutrality, big companies such as Verizon or AT&T would have the power to choose whether or not your website is available and whether or not your clients can access it.
Here are just a few reasons why net neutrality is especially important for small businesses:
The loss of net neutrality will affect the ability of people to find and access your website
People are busy these days and don’t want to waste a lot of time. When they pull up your website, they expect it to load quickly and easily. If it doesn’t, they may just decide it is taking too long and move on to your competitor.
Without net neutrality, small businesses won’t have the necessary resources to put themselves into the internet fast lane, which could mean slower load times, or clients who cannot even access your site due to their ISP deciding not to carry it (similar to cable companies). This means that the internet would no longer be a level playing field and it will most certainly hurt not only your ability to conduct business online, but also your ability to simply promote your business effectively online.
The internet will no longer be a level playing field
A free and open internet, where no ISP can decide what you can and cannot post or read, is a key foundation of Net Neutrality, and it is what the internet was based upon. Without net neutrality, ISPs would be able to give preferential treatment to those who can afford to pay for it, and users would no longer have access to everything posted on the web. It means that small businesses would no longer be able to compete on the same level as bigger companies. It stifles competition, but more importantly, it stifles innovation. Many small businesses would never be able to get off the ground without a free and open internet. It diminishes progress and the overall sharing of information for all of us.
For your business, it could mean that users in your area may no longer be able to access your website at all, or it may be buried underneath the results of bigger companies in your area, or those with deeper pockets. It would have a major negative effect on your online presence, unless you have the funds available to push yourself up to the superhighway. And the sad truth is that most small businesses just don’t have the funds to compete with larger corporations. Without net neutrality, we’ll fall behind the big guys, and that could mean the end of our businesses.
So what can we do?
The new rules were proposed on May 15, 2014, and we are now in the midst of a comment period, before the FCC makes their ruling on September 15th. Everyone is welcome to submit a comment to the FCC and we encourage you to do so.
But, more importantly, contact your representatives in Congress and let them know how important Net Neutrality is to you. Many feel that the only way to truly ensure net neutrality, is for Congress to make it a part of law, by adding it to an updated version of the Telecommunications Act, and there is a movement to do just that. This would take the decision making out of the hands of unelected officials at the FCC, and put it into the hands of elected officials, who are accountable to the American people.
There is a huge movement to protect and ensure net neutrality, but, as small business owners, all of us need to speak up and become part of the conversation. It is just that important.