The US communiations regulator, the FCC, wants to set rules that protect consumers from having their web traffic unfairly throttled, and prevent Internet providers from unreasonably blocking or limiting access to websites. The rules are good for small and medium-sized business, if not for the large telecommunications companies that want them repealed. Net neutrality for an open Internet is always better for both consumers and small business.
President Obama threatened to veto a bill this week that overturns rules stating that Internet providers cannot limit lawful network traffic. On Thursday, the Senate voted the same bill down. Under the new FCC rules put into force last December, mobile broadband providers can't block applications that compete with their services. The administration's position on the rules and the bill introduced to overturn them is clearly stated here.
What is Net Neutrality and why should business care?
The concept of net neutrality holds that access to the Internet should be unrestricted by Internet service providers or any government regulations. As Senator John Kerry says in the video below, the open architecture of the Internet has encouraged businesses like Google and Facebook to flourish, as well as smaller online businesses. As Senator Al Franken says in the same video, "This isn't just about freedom of speech, it is about protecting small businesses."
In the current regulatory environment, if you pay an ISP for a website, it cannot upsell a service so that someone willing to pay more money can have a site that loads faster than yours. It cannot block competing websites, throttle access to small business or otherwise restrict your Internet service.
While larger businesses may be able to dominate search engines through extensive marketing and pay-per-click ad campaigns, your small business's access to the Internet is as free and open as a major corporation's would be.
Closed Internet could harm innovation
If the FCC did not step in and protect the digital rights of the consumer and small business, larger telecommunications companies would gladly increase costs according to services. For example, if a magazine published an article about your company, leading your website hammered with traffic, they would love to be able to hand you a bill for the extra network traffic. Legally, they can't.
Another theoretical service that ISPs could offer, if they weren't prevented from doing so, would be blocking ads from products that compete with their services. For example, if you your ISP also offered phone services, it could block websites from competing phone companies.
To offer a real world example, Canadian internet giant Rogers found itself in hot water in the past few months with the Canadian FCC equivalent for throttling games. Gamers playing World of Warcraft found themselves crawling through their virtual world a little more slowly than usual.
They got together, and Rogers was forced to admit that it had been throttling popular online games, and was told to take steps to stop doing so. While the association representing the gamers and Rogers are still going back and forth on the semantics of the issue, it's an excellent illustration of how an ISP can limit access to services.
The Save the Internet coalition
The pressure from telcos to place more restrictions on the Internet that would allow them to charge your business more money is huge. If you want to get involved, the Save the Internet Coalition is a good place to start.
It's a group of non-profits, businesses and bloggers that want to preserve net neutrality. Its resource guide for how to take action contains lots of great information, including a white paper that debunks industry myths about net neutrality.
Essentially, if you don't want to pay more to use the Internet as a business and don't want your access limited as a consumer, you should support an open Internet. If you're a lobbyist for the large telecommunications providers, you're likely going to take a different, financially motivated view. What the Senate did on November 10 protected the rights of small businesses across the country by keeping the Internet open.