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How Net Neutrality Affects Small Business Owners

The term “net neutrality” has been in the headlines for a while now — and with good reason. If you don’t know what that means, it’s time to get up to speed — the future of small business depends on it.

In a nutshell, the internet created unprecedented platforms for entrepreneurial ventures — granting access to information, funds, global sales, audiences, and even administrative and virtual workplace tools — and that created unprecedented exposure and sales numbers. In fact, Harvard Business Review called the trend the “democratization of entrepreneurship.”

Freedom to use the internet used to be protected by laws that enforced net neutrality for internet service providers (ISPs). These laws prevented them from slowing down, censoring or charging extra for access to any content. In December 2017, however, the Federal Communications Commission repealed those laws.

What is net neutrality?

The FCC introduced the first net neutrality policy statement in 2005. The policy clarified that consumers should have equal access to any lawful content on the internet — without a broadband provider interfering by editing content or censoring access.

Those statements and clarifications became official in 2015 with the basic net neutrality rules. Broadband became classified as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act of  1934, aligning it with utilities like landline phones and electricity. These net neutrality protections were vital to entrepreneurs — and to democracy as well.

In December 2017, the FCC repealed its Title II Net Neutrality regulations, ending net neutrality.

Without the regulations, ISPs can make their own rules and rates, introduce internet packages or bundles — or however they opt to slice and dice internet access — and charge for it.

Is net neutrality here to stay?

In addition to ISPs, a lot of people are not happy with the repeal — and 22 states are suing. Oregon, Washington and California have also enacted their own net neutrality laws. And a number of other states, including New York and New Jersey, has signed orders that take aim at ISPs violating net neutrality.

Under the Congressional Review Act — and with the president’s approval — Congress can overrule the FCC — and even prevent it from doing this again. The Senate already passed legislation, which must pass in the House before the end of 2018. And Republicans have already voted across the aisle — when the CRA was invoked — to repeal Obama’s 2015 introduction of net neutrality rules.

Does the repeal of net neutrality affect your business?

If your business brings in revenue from online sales or you attract new customers through your website, the future of your small business could be at stake. Even if yours isn’t at risk, a pay-to-play internet would certainly impact the future of other small businesses that want to scale up or need funding and exposure to launch. Here are five ways net neutrality can affect your small business:

  1. Broadband companies can charge more for a virtual fast lane; i.e., paid prioritization.
  2. If you don’t pay for prioritization, traffic will go to those companies that do.
  3. Without regulation, broadband companies could block content.
  4. The broadband providers make their own rules — and they don’t have any competition in a large percentage of markets. PCMag analyzed Ookla Speedtest Intelligence data from 20,000 ZIP codes and found that 70 percent had zero or one option for 25 Mbps internet service. Many Americans don’t have a choice regarding broadband providers if they don’t like their current provider’s policies.
  5. Considering the possible new ISP fees and rates, entrepreneurs, freelancing creatives and gig economy workers will take a hit to their pocketbooks if working from home.

Does that mean the ISPs will make these changes? Some of the majors providers — Comcast, Verizon and AT&T— have said they won’t, and Charter has said only that it won’t block or throttle, but didn’t comment on paid prioritization.

What you can do

If you’re planning to start a small business, these changes could mean having to gather additional funding to launch. If you’re unhappy with the repeal and its implications, you must speak up and resist. Battle for the Net offers these suggestions for registering your disapproval, raising awareness and calling others to action:

  • Contact Congress and complain.
  • Change your social media avatars.
  • Insert video bumpers or intros if you make videos.
  • Put banner ads on your website or blog.
  • Provide widget for your website’s visitors to contact Congress (without leaving your site).

Fight for the Future is a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring net neutrality and internet policies that are in the public interest. The organization has conducted educational campaigns and created an open letter to Congress that thousands of small business owners signed. Following Fight for the Future on social media or submitting your email is one way to keep updated on related issues.

For the true DIY internet freedom fighters, Motherboard is encouraging developing decentralized, independent ISPs — and there are already hundreds of them around the country. Motherboard publishes information about wireless networking hardware and software and how to build your own service provider — it also has a newsletter dedicated to building a free internet.

On that note, this issue might present some tech entrepreneurs with the opportunity to disrupt ISP model.


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