No blocking. No throttling. No paid prioritization.
Those are the three cornerstones of the FCC Open Internet rules that took effect on June 12, 2015. And if you're a small-business owner, that news should indeed be music to your ears. Why?
Because the FCC now has the power to ensure Internet providers don't abuse their control by favoring companies that can pay high dollar for "fast lanes." With the rules in place, your website's visitors can keep getting to your site at the same speed they visit any other site. In other words, your big competitors can't pay to have their content prioritized while Internet providers jam up your web traffic just because you didn't fork over the extra toll.
Maybe think of it this way: net neutrality is like all businesses being equally near public transportation. It doesn't guarantee that people are going to use that transportation to visit your business, but it does ensure that people can get to you without having to take 10 detours and walk a mile whereas they are dropped at your large competitor's front door.
Metaphors aside, let's take a closer look at the so-called "bright line" rules of net neutrality and what these rules might mean for the future.
Turn On the Bright Lines
According to a helpful Q&A by The Washington Post, here's what the FCC's three bright line rules mean:
- No blocking. Internet service providers (ISPs) can't block legitimate traffic on their networks. So long as the content is legal, they must let visitors access it.
- No throttling. ISPs can't make sites they don't like load slower.
- No paid prioritization. ISPs can't accept payment from website operators in exchange for faster content load times.
These rules aim to equalize the Internet, which gives small businesses a chance to thrive without being stalled simply because they can't pay for fast lanes or because their content is controversial or niche.
That isn't to say ISPs can't charge based on Internet speeds. Rather, think of the Internet service as a highway where you pay based on how fast you want to go. However, the highway operator can't prevent cars from moving just because it doesn't like where the vehicles are headed.
According to the Q&A, Internet service providers (e.g., telecom companies, cable companies, and wireless carriers) are most affected by these rules. ISPs have the financial incentive and technical abilities to abuse the Internet experience, which is why the FCC classified broadband companies under Title II of the Communications Act. Doing so gives the FCC the ability to intervene when ISPs try to flex their muscle.
Net Neutrality and the Future
The bright lines rules aren't the whole net neutrality story. The FCC wanted to leave enough wiggle room so that its rules can adapt even as technology changes. According to The Washington Post report, the "general conduct" standards give the FCC the ability to police future ISP behaviors that aim to:
- Stifle competition.
- Limit free expression.
- Curb innovation.
These standards are essentially a loosely written warning that advises carriers to tread lightly.
How these rules will adapt to future technology remains to be seen. Though we can't predict the future, we can say this much: it's starting to look pretty bright for small businesses that depend on an open Internet in order to operate and compete.