By Emily Bettridge / Guest Column
Have you ever found yourself stuck on the interstate, wishing for a fast lane so you can finally get out of traffic? If so, then you’ve experienced what the net neutrality repeal may mean for consumers and small businesses. Let me explain.
The net neutrality rules that were put into place during the Obama administration were aimed at leveling the playing field for all service providers. The goal was to stop internet service providers from creating backroom deals with big content providers, squeezing out the little guys and ultimately limiting the amount of accessible content to consumers.
With December’s repeal of those rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), you might start seeing some changes to your internet experience. To put it in layman’s terms, repeal has given internet service providers (ISPs) the ability to create their own express lanes, forcing those who have the funds to pay up while leaving the smaller providers with nowhere to turn.
So far, companies like AT&T and Comcast have said consumers will not see a change. The New York Times recently made a great point, noting that “With such a big spotlight on them, the companies will probably be careful about changing service plans, partly to avoid angering customers and attracting lawmakers’ attention.”
It’s great that these companies have made statements saying there won’t be changes, but should we take their word for it? At the end of the day, business is business – and money is a huge motivator. It wouldn’t be surprising to see some changes to the internet down the line.
While big content providers like Netflix, Google, Facebook, etc. will be able to afford hikes in prices, smaller businesses may not.
If you’re a business owner, chances are you’re using multiple social media platforms to market your content. There may come a time where you will have to pay more for certain “privileges,” like accessing Instagram or a faster download speed.
That means even SEO could be affected. Page speed is a factor in determining your domain authority, meaning a slower download speed can negatively impact your marketing efforts.
Startups could take an outsized hit. With net neutrality, companies were able to create an app without ever having to worry about excessive prices for bandwidth or streaming quality. Without net neutrality, this may not be the case. Everything from upload speed to streaming quality may be affected. As it stands right now, these are the different speeds required for streaming live video:
- 500Kbps – Lowest speed required for streaming
- 1.5Mbps – Provides quality viewing
- 3Mbps – Provides standard definition
- 5-8Mbps – Provides 720p and 1080p HD
- 25Mbps – Provides 4K Ultra HD
Without net neutrality, ISPs will now be able to charge premiums for higher bandwidths. Netflix, for example, produces most of its shows in 4K, giving their consumers an array of high-quality shows. If Comcast decides to charge Netflix a higher premium based on the amount of bandwidth it requires, what is going to happen next? Netflix will likely offset these added costs by charging their users more. So, while Netflix would have to pay a higher cost upfront, they’d be able to recoup their loss by simply charging you more.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio recently spoke on the issue in Business Insider, saying, “I think the FCC decision on net neutrality is going to damage the internet as we know it today. I think the internet’s going to start looking a lot more like cable television.”
The repeal doesn’t stop with our internet providers, either. It could also have ripple effects in the mobile industry.
Your mobile plan is based off an amount of data you have available to use all your features and apps. If you take away the net neutrality rules, then your service provider, such as Verizon or AT&T, will be able to charge multiple premiums. You might even start seeing mobile plans that would require a higher payment just to stream HD content.
In short, the internet today is like a toll-free highway on which everyone has the same access to drive. The repeal of net neutrality could mean that this highway starts charging tolls of different amounts, with semi-trucks paying more than a sedan. Those who are willing and able to pay for faster lanes will be charged more money.
The net neutrality repeal is still a new issue, however, and one that should be treated with caution. With expected lawsuits and attempts to roll back the FCC’s repeal, this story is far from over. For now, as consumers and small business owners, all we can do is trust the big ISPs when they say our web viewing experience won’t change.
Emily Bettridge is a content strategist with Plaid Swan and a graduate of the University of Iowa School of Journalism. She was previously employed by the CBJ as an editorial intern.