The Washington Post reports that the Federal Communications Commission proposal to alter net neutrality regulations has passed when the agency voted 3-2 to impose public utility regulations on Internet access providers. But all signs point to this being an ongoing and contentious issue among politicians, citizens, and tech professionals.
The FCC proposal was drafted, edited, and redrafted a number of times, and while it has just passed, ISPs like Comcast may sue to stop the reclassification of the Internet as a public utility similar to telephone and electricity. That's a lot to absorb, so let's walk through the net neutrality debate step by step.
What exactly is going on with net neutrality? Take a deep breath because we're about to dive deep into the confusing world of the debate. To understand this issue, we'll answer three basic questions:
- What is net neutrality?
- What is going on in the net neutrality debate?
- What impact will the FCC's net neutrality proposal have on small information technology businesses?
What Is Net Neutrality?
Before we go any further, it's probably best to define net neutrality. This term refers to an Internet where Internet service providers (ISPs) aren't allowed to limit how quickly content providers can send their data to users. Neutrality is seen as something that gives the Internet a level playing field. Small businesses can send their data just as fast as their larger competition.
In the early days of the Internet, there were so many ISPs that no single provider had end-to-end control of data. However, consolidation has caused a few ISPs to own large chunks of Internet real estate, meaning ISPs now have enough control to charge more to businesses that want high-bandwidth speeds.
This is precisely the issue that divides politicians and commentators:
- Those in favor of net neutrality worry that there could be a monopoly of ISPs that only allow full-throttle Internet to high-paying web companies – and this might harm startups.
- Those opposed to net neutrality think that regulating ISPs could create negative side effects that dampen innovation and reduce investments in broadband.
For more background on net neutrality, see "Net Neutrality Protest Sees Significant Engagement."
What Is Going on in the Net Neutrality Debate?
Here's where things get complicated. President Obama pushed for Internet to be classified as a Title II public utility like the telephone or electricity. This classification basically guarantees that net neutrality would be preserved.
The FCC responded by rewriting the committee's proposal to include the President's suggestions and has now voted to pass it. In this latest version, the FCC proposes that although Internet would be classified like telephones and electricity, it would have far fewer restrictions than those utilities. (See "Net Neutrality Update: Time to Weigh in on FCC Rules," to learn more about the FCC's suggestions.)
Meanwhile, opponents have come out swinging. Some congressmen have compared these regulations to Internet restrictions in Iran, North Korea, and China. Those comparisons are farfetched as no content will be limited and no right to free speech will be infringed upon. Nonetheless, many consumers are worried about government regulation of the Internet.
What Impact Will the FCC's Net Neutrality Proposal Have on Small IT Businesses?
Given the opposition that each side faces, it's hard to know what the ultimate fate of net neutrality will be. While the FCC voted to preserve net neutrality, many experts believe that ISPs will sue to stop this and a case is destined to go to the US Supreme Court. In the meantime, you might be wondering how all of this will affect you and other IT contractors.
Theoretically, net neutrality is good for small tech businesses, web developers, and mobile developer companies. IT professionals should consider that net neutrality…
- Means your customers can get access to your services at the same speed as your larger competition.
- May only affect startups and small business that require large amounts of bandwidth (i.e., video streaming services).
Even though the FCC's proposal has passed, the next administration can overturn the rules. Who knows what the final regulations will be? And with all the pushback, there's a possibility the status quo will continue for tech contractors.
As the debate continues, net neutrality will continue to dominate the tech news cycle. Whenever new developments happen, make sure to check out the TechInsurance blog to learn what it means for IT small businesses.