By Nick Brown
If you’re a small or medium business owner and you’re involved in the online market, you’ve probably heard about the regulations being pushed to end net neutrality. This could mean that the big cable companies will have the control over all of the content on the web. As Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai has stated – it was imperative to get the control over the online content, even though people in the USA will still be able to access services and websites they want.
With the broadband companies now in control of what consumers can access and the mention of “fast lanes” for faster loading times and more access, there seems to be quite a lot of changes ahead of us. But let’s step back and take it from the beginning, so we can get the better understanding of what to expect in the post-net neutrality online world.
What is net neutrality?
One of the first guiding principles of the internet, since it was created, was the fact that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had to treat all internet traffic in equal fashion. All traffic had to be treated equally, whether it’s from home broadband or a mobile plan.
Net neutrality has brought us an abundance of websites and apps that shaped the way we spend our time online. In such conditions, it was completely natural to see quite a lot of amazing innovations all over the internet, because the internet was a level playing field and everybody had the same opportunity. This was quite a boost for everyone deciding to start a business, as they had the equal shots for success as the next guy.
When it comes to consumers and what net neutrality meant for them, the best analogy to explain it is cable TV. When you’re getting a cable TV you pay for a defined set of channels and if you want more, you have to buy additional packages. Basically, without net neutrality, ISPs can decide if you’ll have to pay for certain services and websites you use. We’re all sick and tired of those “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE” commercials, but they might be here to stay.
What does this mean for your business?
It is true that post-net neutrality scenery looks a bit grim for everyone who doesn’t work directly for their ISPs, and even if this is the case, using software and services from other providers may become unavailable. Looking back, we know that Comcast and Verizon have already spent millions trying to get money from various internet companies for keeping them online and keeping them as fast as the competition. It’s very likely that something like that is going to happen in the future.
Another thing that’s worrying is the fact that most of the startups begin very small and humble. Google and Facebook started as small startup companies that struggled to pay their ISPs to keep them online. Every year we get thousands of new startups and some of those startups rise to become giants in the online world. Losing net neutrality wouldn’t hurt those giants as much as it would the little guys before they even have a chance to prove themselves as new Google or Facebook. It sounds a bit like extortion, but big companies can afford to pay it.
What do experts say about it?
It’s pretty clear that the public is strongly against the decision to end net neutrality, but the FCC stated that this will be a good thing in a long run, as broadband providers will have stronger incentives to build networks. According to most of the analysts and activists – this simply isn’t the case.
There will be some benefits in forms of lower prices for basic plans and services, and we will see quite a lot of innovation in the internet of things, but what most of the average customers should expect is to pay more. Another thing which is very likely to happen soon, is that content will be blocked and throttled, no matter what the FCC says. Prioritizing paid content over the rest of it will most likely become somewhat of a standard. Slowing certain types of traffic (like videos, images and other media) will also become very real, as that traffic uses too much of bandwidth. This will most definitely make it harder for innovations and startups to make their way through. Common startups like website development companies or small e-commerce services will have to re-organize and adapt their business plans in order to stay on top of all the potential price jumps for ISPs services.
Are there any solutions for startups?
Running a startup can be scary on its own, and with the net neutrality gone, you may feel there’s nothing good ahead of you. You will have to adapt and do a lot of research, but this doesn’t have to be the end of your business.
When you are forced to think about loading speed, visuals, but also your customer support all over again, it may seem there are no solutions for problems lack of net neutrality will bring. However, there are some things you can do to help you sail these waters. Adapt your visual aids so they can accommodate slower speeds, optimize everything in every possible way, so you are absolutely certain your website won’t lose any time loading on its own. Train a team of people instead of finding an automated CRM bot, so you can keep your customer relations proactive through social media and emails. Using VPN to hide from large ISPs is also a thing to consider, as it makes it harder for big broadband companies to track and control your website through a virtual network. Using meshed networks or going global are also steps that could help a startup in this post-net neutrality era.
We still have to see how exactly the FCC will handle the post-net neutrality internet and we will have to wait and see what this decision will do to the small businesses, but if we’ve learned something in the last past years, the internet changes and evolves almost on daily basis. The loss of net neutrality is a challenge, but it’s not something that will break the internet as we know it. As a startup owner, your job is to educate yourself and connect with your peers globally if you’re going to fight this challenge.
Nick Brown is a blogger and a marketing expert currently engaged on projects for Media Gurus, an Australian business, and marketing resource. He is an aspiring street artist and does Audio/Video editing as a hobby.