Business and a Neutral Net

Net NeutralityA discussion of net neutrality has been circling in various media outlets, mostly of tech blogs and programs. Surprisingly, it does not seem to have gained mainstream traction despite the implications and possible consequences of an Internet that is no longer neutral; consequences that affect the public at large and businesses as well.

Briefly, net neutrality is the basic idea that the highways and byways of the worldwide web should deliver content equally and without differing speeds regardless of the person or entity delivering the content, also, regardless of the content. This means that you could be a multinational corporation or private citizen sitting in the comfort of their home and in neither case is the information that you are sending over the Internet prioritized. Size and resources should play no role in how quickly your information is delivered to an end user. The discussion occurring now will decide whether or not the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) will keep the Internet a neutral space that does not allow the prioritization of information.? This will have enormous implications for private citizens and businesses.

Imagine that you are a small business who, like all businesses in the internet age, relies on having a strong internet presence for marketing and/or direct sale. Now imagine that there is a larger company that also does what you do and that also uses the internet for the same purposes. Let?s say that your larger competitor is better capitalized than you and has significantly more resources than your company. In the absence of net neutrality, this company can conceivably pay more money to have their content more quickly delivered to its customers, some of whom you may both share, and essentially use the availability of bandwidth and prioritization of their content as a competitive advantage. To some this might seem to be reasonable, if you can afford to promote your content or product in a faster, more impactful way then that is the function of capitalism. But many proponents of net neutrality believe that this is the exact reason why the internet should remain neutral.

Neutrality proponents speak of a non-neutral net in terms of creating ?fast lanes? and ?slow lanes?. Naturally, people who are using a company?s site or products would prefer to be in the fast lane (think of how quickly we close a video or document that takes one too many seconds to load). This creates an environment wherein content can be controlled. This could have some disturbing consequences. On the one hand, competition, one of the pillars of a free market, would be removed. Advocates of neutrality often view internet access as a utility. Imagine if electricity, or phone service were delivered on a tiered system; the business who couldn?t afford it would not have their calls go through immediately, and their electrical service would not allow them to operate at the same rate as a company that was more well capitalized. An even more sinister implication is the use of tiered internet service that works to censor ?unpopular? opinions. It could be used to effectively silence dissent or, a corporation in the midst of civil litigation could effectively drown out the voices of its critics.

While much of the language surrounding net neutrality is sometimes wrapped in technical jargon, the impact on free enterprise and free thought, the life?s blood of free enterprise, is enormous. Thankfully much of the pressure on the FCC has come from those advocating to maintain a neutral internet.