If you've been keeping up with the net neutrality debate, you may already know that on February 26, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 in favor of network neutrality. As a result of the ruling, Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all web traffic equally, which means ISPs can't…
- Slow or block legal content – all legal content must receive equal priority when the ISP handles it.
- Offer "fast lanes" that prioritize data transfer for those who can afford it.
In other words, the ruling reinforces the Internet's status as an open platform that grants equal access and opportunity to large and small content providers alike.
How does the FCC ruling do that, exactly? It reclassified home and mobile broadband as a telecommunications service, a public utility that the FCC already oversees. Just like anyone can get a phone landline, anyone can pay for Internet service. Only now, ISPs can't discriminate against content providers and consumers who may be competitors.
As you might have guessed, some major ISPs are in staunch opposition to the ruling (see Verizon's cringe-worthy reaction), which makes sense. Imagine the prices that companies and content providers might have been willing to pay for those fast lanes! The FCC ruling may have dashed those money-sign dreams, but rest assured, ISPs will continue to be profitable so long as the Internet is around.
Now, keep in mind that different Internet speeds are perfectly legal. However, the ruling means that you can access every legal website at the same speed of data transfer that you pay for. The ISP can't…
- Make one page load faster simply because it likes that content provider or because the content provider paid to be given priority (known as paid prioritization).
- Block traffic to, say, a competitor's site.
That's a lot to take in, so let's contextualize the net neutrality ruling so you can see how it benefits small businesses.
Net Neutrality and Small Business
Though net neutrality is a complicated and heated subject, in general, the ruling is a good thing for small businesses. It ensures that your big business competitors that can pay for fast lanes don't get a chance to flex that financial muscle and get an unfair advantage over you. Everyone's data must be treated equally, so long as it's legal.
To be fair, this ruling may not affect you much if you simply have an ecommerce website and live in a major city. The parties most affected by the decision are…
- Internet service providers.
- Content providers.
- Those in rural areas where cable companies have boxed out municipal broadband networks (read more about that in this article by The Guardian).
So unless you offer online video streaming or another type of content that uses a large amount of bandwidth, the ruling might not hold as much value to you at this exact moment in time.
Of course, just because this ruling passed doesn't mean it won't be challenged. There's already chatter about fighting the rules in court. Plus, the next administration may try to overturn it. But for now, let's chalk this up as a win for small-business owners.