Net Neutrality Up for Debate

Date: July 01, 2014

The FCC’s proposal to protect an open Internet could affect your small business.

On May 15, the Federal
Communications Commission proposed to protect the openness of the Internet and
keep broadband providers from trying to limit that openness through a new set of rules. Within a few weeks, the FCC’s website
was deluged with over 45,000 comments from business leaders and regular
citizens alike. Despite the proposal’s lack of detail, commenters were quick to
question how such rules will impact society as a whole—a sign of how intensely
the public is following the debate.

The announcement kicked off a four-month exploratory
process, which aims to determine the best ways to ensure net neutrality, or equal
access to online content and applications for all Internet users.

Currently, consumers have access to the same Internet
services, although cable and DSL broadband speeds and costs
vary. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler argues that, as the
Internet evolves, new rules will be necessary because none exist today. Yet the
issue has become a lightning rod for discussion in technology and business circles that want to ensure that
big companies won’t have added influence if changes are adopted.

What Net Neutrality Could Mean for Small
Businesses

The commission proposes to provide
consumers and content providers like Amazon and Google with disclosures on
service issues, while also reviving a “no-blocking” rule to ensure fast access
for customers.

Yet two hot spots are sparking the most
debate: 

1. Two-Tiered System. The announcement was
followed by speculation about the potential for paid
prioritization of services that
would leave smaller companies and regular consumers with inferior service. One way this could happen is via exclusive “peering arrangements,” agreements
between Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon, and the corporations
that provide the routers, cable and other physical connections that support
Internet functionality.
If that happens, “small business owners have
justifiable concerns over some higher tax or fee to get
even higher speed Internet access via the new higher speed Internet connections,”
says technology and small business writer Ramon Ray.

However, others note that pay structures
aren’t completely fair under the current system. A video streaming startup that
eats up more Internet traffic, for example, doesn’t necessarily pay more than a
small business with fewer online needs. In his blog, Wheeler
insists that “behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the
openness of the Internet will not be permitted.”

2. Reclassification. The FCC is also considering whether to subject
Internet service providers to common carrier rules under Title II of the
Communications Act of 1934 or to certain rules under the Telecommunications Act
of 1996. Wheeler has explained this is simply to subject Internet providers to
the same anti-discriminatory rules as utility companies. “
I don’t
think the government wants to regulate [the Internet] heavily like a phone
company,” says Ray.

What Small Business Owners
Can Do

Business owners have until July 15 to submit comments
(look for Proceeding 14-28), after which point the public will have another two months to
reply to comments. New rules will likely be implemented before the
end of the year, says Wheeler.

The average brick
and mortar retailer may not notice any changes. But if you’re a videographer
pumping hundreds of videos out to clients, or simply trying to move faster
online, Ray advises you to research and understand the issues and voice your
concerns to your local representatives
.

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