You could argue Net Neutrality is a fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Sorry, Superman, but being faster than a speeding bullet has a whole new meaning in this debate.
The idea that all data online must be treated equally may sound like a social platform, but this central tenet of Net Neutrality is something we all need to take a moment to understand. It’s not a matter for IT departments. It’s a matter for finance departments, marketing, operations, customer service, and beyond. It’s a matter for businesses and individuals alike.
Should there be a fast lane and a slow lane for the internet? A premium and a pedestrian speed depending on what a company is willing to pay a provider for their website? Should a cable company be able to slow down certain websites at will?
Start-ups like Google and Amazon became what they are today because they could compete with anyone in a fair internet space. Will tomorrow’s entrepreneurs have the same opportunities?
This is where that “truth, justice, and the American way” fight comes in, right?
We’ve been hearing about Net Neutrality for a while now, but we are now weeks away from a decision that might change the Web as we know it. On Thursday, February 5th, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler will share his first draft of a new Net Neutrality rule with his four fellow FCC commissioners, most likely giving the public a hint of its substance. The world will not see the full details until the end of the month if and when a final decision has been made. We are all now officially holding our breaths.
This decision is much bigger than just the tech industry. Think about how much your business—or any business—depends on the Web. It’s where you connect with your audiences. It’s where you might sell your products or first introduce your services. It’s a central piece of your total operation.
Why is Net Neutrality Important?
- Users—not providers—should have control. In a free society, access to information shouldn’t be hindered by big government or big business. Any individual with access to the internet should be able to find what they need online without hindrance, no matter what they seek. He or she shouldn’t, for example, have trouble loading university, non-profit, or government websites, while powerful video streaming sites are seamless.
- Corporate giants shouldn’t be able to squash competition via internet speed. The free market is hurt by unilateral website slowdowns or blockages. If Comcast, who partially owns Hulu, slows down Netflix, customers will be frustrated and look for alternative streaming options. Cable providers shouldn’t have the control to decide who wins and who loses.
- Pay-to-play models limit startups. Imagine great minds with a brilliant new internet business coming out of a garage or a Harvard dorm room. If Internet speed is tiered, a startup without a great amount of capital wouldn’t be able to compete on an equal playing field. Why would users wait for something new when what they already know is speedily at their fingertips?
2014 was a tumultuous year for those following the Net Neutrality debate, starting with a rejection of the open Internet rules issued by the Federal Communications Commission, followed by massive protests, a wickedly brilliant call to action by comedian John Oliver that may or may not have crashed the FCC website due to comment overload, the September 10th “Internet Slowdown,” and so much more.
We’ve talked about who has international governance over the Internet, but this debate is presently in a new, bothersome place.
Will a lack of Net Neutrality be Kryptonite to start-ups and small businesses alike? We will soon see. Clark Kent will surely be one of the first reporters on the scene.