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What Net Neutrality Means For Your Business, and Why You Need to Act Now to Protect It

You’ve probably seen a lot of buzz around the web about an impending threat to what’s called “net neutrality.”

Those of you who tend to steer clear of drama or politically-charged hyperbole might have avoided this conversation, because the arguments around this issue tend to be filled with language like “scumbags,” “prostitutes,” and “two-faced, split-tongued, double-talking, backstabbing cowards.”

And those are the polite remarks.

But if you live in the U.S., the threat to net neutrality is something that could negatively affect your business, and there are some things you need to understand.

In today's upcoming post +Sonia Simone explains. Stay tuned. 

Update: post is now live:

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+Copyblogger they need to put the threat into an analogy that Americans can understand. People are busy and do not have time to research all the details.  Done correctly Americans will go bizerk.  They do not even have a clue what is coming.  The whole thing has me wistful of the old brick and mortar days...
This whole conflict is because of the concept of the zero-sum game, so we must be very clear about this. 

Here's my question: Is it 100% true that for one business to get a faster lane, another business must be squeezed into a slower lane?

My cable provider just increased throughput for everyone in our neighborhood. Does this mean that someone in an adjoining neighborhood is now seeing dial-up speeds?

Certainly most if not all things that our dear regulators get their paws on end up being worse for wear, and this history in itself argues against the currently proposed new rules for net neutrality.

But before we light the pitchforks, let's make sure we have the science right. I'm always deeply suspicious whenever an economist trots out the zero-sum game theory when applied to anything except stock trading.
I am concerned that the true goal might be to limit the ability of "we the people" to spread our content and  offer different opinions from those provided by the big content creators, their sponsors, and government "sources".   The 'Net empowers more discussion and more interaction among private individuals. Anything that threatens that is cause for concern.  Ayn Rand wrote, "The smallest minority is the individual. No one can claim concern for the rights of minorites without concern for the rights of individuals."
+Steven Washer The short answer to your question is: yes, if you put one set of businesses in a fast lane, other businesses are not in a "normal" lane, they're in a slower one. The "fast lane" becomes the new normal for consuming content online.

Regardless of how they achieve this (offering more bandwidth to certain content, using peering networks to speed up loading time, or some other method I'm not aware of), the results are the same: it becomes harder to distribute content as an entrepreneur without paying an extra toll for it.
+Steven Washer If your cable provider increased your neighborhood speeds without adding equipment, then yes, it would have come at someone else's expense. More likely they upgraded the equipment to your area to be able to support better speed. Tim Wu isn't a random economist, he's an acknowledged expert on networks and telecommunication policy who's been working on this issue for decades. 

If there could be safeguards put into place that would guarantee that a "fast lane" would not degrade any existing service, that might be beneficial But keep in mind that the ISPs are not regulated like utilities are, so in the real world such a regulation wouldn't be enforceable. Consumers already battle their ISPs about slow, poor-quality service that isn't what was promised/sold to them, and there's not much recourse. 
+Daniel M. St.André The true goal, I'm pretty sure, is to allow the ISPs to make more profit. The current chair of the FCC is a former highly effective lobbyist for that industry. 
And +Adam Melton makes an excellent point -- even if you could somehow ensure that there would be no degradation to existing service, which I do not believe is realistic, when big content speed becomes considered the norm, smaller sites -- including nonprofits, blogs, political sites, and small business sites -- will be perceived as slow. And we know that user perception of site speed affects user experience, engagement, and conversion. 
+Sonia Simone  and +Adam Melton How fast can a page load up anyway? Google finds 275,000,000 results in .04 seconds. My page loads in 3 seconds. That's as much a factor of my crappy website structure as it is the pipeline.

My point is that we can only perceive so much in terms of speed. After that it's moot. My other point is that there is always so much hysteria over the fact that a corporation might make some money, that all reason goes flying out the window.

I'm not an apologist for our current crony/mercantilist system where huge companies get richer by passing laws that keep innovators out of the marketplace.

What I object to is "science" that is passed down fourth-hand, over which political action is taken that ultimately makes the taker look foolish. Then, when the dyke truly does burst, no one listens.

For instance, I gave the example of my cable provider giving us more speed recently. There is no way on earth they would randomly take someone else's bandwidth and give it to us. There is zero incentive for that. It's this kind of fuzzy emotional thinking that is going to doom us when we look at solving critical economic issues as a society.

I just want to know the technological answer, but those in the know prefer to reduce it to sound bites so as to buttress their personal positions. 
I am PROFOUNDLY thankful that someone authoritative in content marketing land finally has found the balls to say something about this. I was really starting to think that perhaps I was simply crazy. You know, I was wondering how come I was the only person in the entire world who is worried about the possibility that net neutrality would be brought to an end in the US and how that will severely affect all of us small business owners. You don't even begin to realize how absurdly relieved I am that +Sonia Simone has the spine to write about this.

If you are already wealthy, you'll be just fine. You'll pay the toll and you'll prosper. If you are like me though, you'll be permanently out, in the slow lane and you will never get a chance, ever.

If net neutrality is done away with, the rich will get much richer - and the rest of us, well, you know how that ends.

We have got to STOP being so scared and stand the F UP for what is right for all of us small business owners!  You know me on Twitter. I am the very same JD Ebberly who has been known to RANT about these issues from time to time. I got started in 2012 when I found out about NDAA 2012.
As a Canadian, I can't really get into the political side of things. But from a technical standpoint, I can see how allowing payment for faster throughput could help fund expanding infrastructure. Which would be good for the end consumer. There's a big "if" here though - will the ISP's use the extra income to expand the infrastructure or will they throttle back the nonpaying content providers and pocket the profits.

It would be bad for the small to medium size businesses that can't deliver their content as quickly as the big guys do. However, what would the costs be to get in the fast lane? Perhaps it wouldn't be as expensive (I'm sure it would be based on the amount of data transferred) as you might think. It is like server equipment. The big guys can afford to run dedicated servers with fiber connections while the rest of us use shared hosting of some sort or another.

But there is still the principle involved - equal access for all. And once they idea of paid fast lanes is entrenched, who knows what other ideas follow to throttle some types of content and accelerate others.

So there is no simple answer.
+Steven Washer You quickly load up pages, that's true, but as much as the writer rules the show, content is still king. That means things like podcasts, streaming video, hangouts, VOIP, Live Tweeting, and other activities that take up more bandwidth than loading a page. If your video or podcast takes a few seconds longer to load, or doesn't buffer fast enough to provide a smooth experience, then as a content creator you're going to have a very hard time holding on to an audience.

The technology side of it has to do with peering networks. Before I get into this: I AM NOT AN EXPERT. If someone with a more technical background can explain this, please do. But here's my layman explanation:

When you connect to a page or address, you're going through a series of connections to do so. Now, if you want a page or piece of content to load quickly, it takes the shortest path to do so, jumping from one DNS server to the next, and then delivering your request back to your computer. Think of it like calling up the operator in the old old days and they connect your call at a switchboard. It's pretty similar to that.

Let's theorize that, on a fast lane connection, a request you make from your home in New York goes to a local DNS server which communicates with another DNS server, say in Los Angeles. This communication happens over a network of data hubs. The fast lane connection takes the shortest number of hubs to deliver the data back to you. That means you start streaming faster, get a page request back faster, etc.

On a slow lane request, that same request gets routed through more and more hubs. It would be like your call from New York to Los Angles was routed through Miami to Salt Lake to Denver and then to Los Angeles. Now, this may not be a massive drop in speed, but if you're requesting a large amount of data, you will notice it in the time it takes for a video to load, or the speed at which it can be streamed to you. Enough delays, and you're likely going to hit the back button or search for another source.

By making sure that these networks treat all request exactly the same (whether they're from Netflix, NBC, or little old me) it allows businesses to reach customers more smoothly.

As far as corporations making money... they already are. Broadband internet has been shown to have a 90%+ magin for service providers. This is not a question of poor put upon service providers looking for a way to monetize... it's about greed, pure and simple.
Nina, thanks for this wonderful article. Here's the email I sent to Senators Boxer and Feinstein:

I favor net neutrality. I do not want – by analogy – the Los Angeles Times’ delivery trucks to be able to use the freeway fast line, while the Indianapolis Star and the Eugene Register Guard reach me hours later because they’ve been stuck in traffic.
Thank you for supporting “open freeways” for information delivery, which is fundamental to the functioning of a democratic society.
+Bill Nickerson They aren't exactly hurting for income right now. The amount they make on broadband internet access is actually a little obscene, especially as most areas in the US only have one or two options for providers.
+Adam Melton , you've nailed the big "if"! If this is just to line their pockets then it is a disservice to the content providers and their customers. In Canada, we have less population density, so the infrastructure cost has to be spread out more, but I believe they're making tons (if not obscene) money up here too.
This hits very close to home.  about 10 years ago I lived in a rural area (a different rural area than I live now).  The local large industry, a concrete plant, put in what I think was a T-1 line.  Unfortunately, they didn't upgrade the equipment, so all of us downstream of that line all of a sudden had horribly decreased dial up speeds and because of the geography, no other internet options available. 

It's not exactly the same thing, but I think it has similarities. Changing the understanding of net neutrality to favor a pay to play arrangement would create an environment in which large businesses could (would) be favored due to their ability to pay more, and everyone else would end up getting the scraps of what is left.   

I've emailed Chairman Wheeler and will contact my representatives as well.  

+Sonia Simone  - thanks for an article that even a sleep deprived mompreneur can understand and act on.  
I think most of you are missing the real underlying motivation for this case.  Of course I believe everything said, so eloquently by +Sonia Simone  If they have a switch that moves some traffic to the fast lane, they will also have a switch for the slow lane – as well as plans to bill you differently for different content you consume. The real push today has to do with Television.  Cable and Satellite companies control a near oligopolic control over the distribution of television content and collection of those $100/mo bills we all pay.  If services like Ruku and YouTube convince us not to pay those bills, the distribution company loses billions. Today Comcast owns 60+ percent of the distribution and they are looking to buy the second largest.  They also own NBC, CNBC, MSNBC and several other content creators.  If you chose not to pay for their content, they want to make up that lost revenue by charging you more for the content you do want.  In my opinion there is nothing positive that comes from this other than saving the cash flow of these large lobbying companies. 
+Bill Nickerson As a Canadian you folks are also facing this, but the timing & actions are different so I didn't address it. But well worth looking into. 
This is the result of years of lobbying by the cable and carrier industry. Basically the FCC want to introduce a tax on innovation, ie transfer wealth from innovators (OTT players like WhatsApp, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Google etc) to non-innovators (cable companies and telecom carriers). The non-innovators almost always have near monopolies in their markets but somehow need this tax to survive...
+Pauline Magnusson thanks so much for your comment, I tried hard to keep things simple and straightforward, as my eyes tend to gloss over at these things as well. :) 

There's quite a lot to this, as you can imagine. Core to the problem, in addition to the oversight chair being a former lobbyist, is the lack of serious competition among ISPs. There are actually laws in many states -- mine is one -- that make it illegal for cities to distribute their own internet infrastructure. Too many consumers have to fight just to get the bandwidth that they're paying premium prices for. 
+Daniel M. St.André I agree. This could be a real game changer and could effect political elections - voices from "we the people" will know longer be heard.
+Steven Washer If you're willing to live with "the telecom companies probably won't screw me and my business over," then that's one way of looking at it. 

I totally hear what you're saying about keeping your powder dry for the important stuff. But when literally every voice I respect on telecom policy agrees that net neutrality is crucial to the health and openness of the web, this is a time when I'm willing to take a stand. You may have noticed that we almost never weigh in on these issues. But we believe that net neutrality is a big deal. 
+Sonia Simone If this issue finally allows people to see the results of decades of corporations using their powerful connections in Congress to get laws passed that prevent new players from entering the market, it will be more than worth the short-term pain that net neutrality may cause.

The problem has ALWAYS been that on both sides of the aisle, the objective has been to get more goodies for your side rather than let the other side take from you. 

A wise wag once once called voting "the advance auction of stolen goods" or something like that and I agree. Once people realized they could just vote themselves largess out of the public trust, the whole idea of a modest republic was done.


Obviously we all want a level playing field online. Until now, this was the only place left on earth where we had it. If this is the gov't/corporate version of the Final Solution, then we are duty-bound to fight it tooth and nail. 

That's why I want to make certain that this IS the place to make our stand.
This 'net neutrality' issue is another example of how Capitalim is in the process of destroying Democracy. (in order for the rich to have a plutocracy.)
The competative super-rich elites have gone greed-mad. (in my opinion) 

Please reflect on what Abe Lincoln may have voted on this issue.   I also add my 2 cents.

… The Shortest History of Power !
… Way back, at some beginning,
Muscle started out as boss, but…
Muscle got set aside by Money, then,
Mind learned it could trump Money, but
Money learned it could manipulate each
But as we now know, Voting can beat all.!

Abe Lincoln said , ..of the people, by the people and for the people
+Sonia Simone I think your observation about the danger of having a former lobbyist as FCC chairperson is spot on (and so clear in other situations where policy makers or jurists are making decisions that affect the common good, and are so often people who have had or still have financial ties to the outcome in some way or another.  Monsanto, anyone?). 

I've heard the argument made that such people are the only ones who will have in depth knowledge of an industry to make regulatory decisions, but there has got to be a better way.  Because currently, something's rotten in the state of Denmark, so to speak.  
Here's a copy of the letter I just emailed to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. Feel free to use any parts that are relevant to you in your own emails.

Dear Mr. Wheeler,

The internet has rightly been called the information superhighway. It's allowed small businesses to start, grow, thrive, and become medium- and big-businesses. That's because, until now, we've enjoyed net neutrality.

Everyone starts with a level playing field, so a solopreneur like me has just as much chance of building a successful online business as a huge corporation does.

But if you relegate me to the slow lane by eliminating Net Neutrality,I'm sunk.

And that's the opposite of what the internet was supposed to do. 

Like the public airwaves, like our state highways, the internet was unleashed for the public good. 

It needs to stay that way.

Small business accounts for nearly half the employment in the US today, and a big chunk of the country's economic growth. If you slow a small business' website, you pretty much kill that business.

Do you really want to decimate nearly half of existing businesses to favor a few big players with deep pockets? 

On a personal level, I lost my well paying job in March of 2009, part of the banking crisis and financial meltdown. I had no role in that meltdown, no responsibility in any way. Yet I've suffered tremendously as a result of it.

Now I've found a way to build some income for myself through my online business. It's nowhere near the income I enjoyed prior to March, 2009, but it has potential. If you eliminate Net Neutrality, you put me back on the rolls of the unemployed.

I don't think that's your job. I think your job is to protect the internet from the demands of the great and powerful with deep pockets so that it's still available, on a fair and level playing field, for the small and meek.

Please, Mr. Wheeler, come out from behind the curtain and stop the threats to Net Neutrality.

Susanna Perkins
Yikes...what would this do to alternative journalism/media sites? Not to sound alarmist, but is this just about commerce or is it also about regulation of information?
+Pauline Magnusson , I think it's appropriate to sound alarmist. If they have the FCC's blessings to throttle some traffic, then they decide what to throttle. There have already been documented cases of Comcast, for example, not sending a bulk email because it didn't like the feminist content. . .
+Pauline Magnusson I believe the motive is profit. But I also believe that there is no particular interest in protecting access to the full spectrum of information, including the kind we need to make informed decisions as citizens.
Excellent article +Sonia Simone. I hadn't followed the issue closely because I didn't think it made much of a difference practically. But you make a persuasive case that net neutrality does make a difference, especially for small to medium businesses. I have a better grasp on the issue now. Thanks.
+Phil Schomber I think some of the rhetoric makes it seem like something that only internet freedom purists cared about. But the concern I have is just one of the scenarios that those purists are trying to help prevent ...
… The Shortest History of Power !
… Way back, at some beginning,
Muscle started out as boss, but…
Muscle got set aside by Money, then,
Mind learned it could trump Money, but
Money learned it could manipulate each
But we now know, Voting can beat all.!
Abe Lincoln said , ..of the people, by the people and for the people
Signed, sealed, and to Tom Wheeler. Thanks +Sonia Simone for the kick in the pants. 
Excellent post Sonia, thank you so much for this! I've been hearing about Net Neutrality for a while (of course, it's impossible to miss), but this is the first post that really put it into perspective for me. I've emailed the following letter, and welcome anyone to make use of what I've written as well...

Hi Tom,
You don't know me, but I'm a small business owner. Like many small business owners, I dream of someday growing my business into a not-so-small business. But in order to do that, I need to be able to stay in business.

It's come to my attention that ISP's would like to be able to sell "fast track" services, so that companies who are willing to pay will be delivered to customers much faster. Sadly, as a business owner still in the early stages of business, I don't have the money to become one of these "fast track" companies.

Unfortunately, as you certainly know, bandwidth is a finite thing. If someone else gets a boost in speed, everyone else will get a reduction in speed. Meaning that while the "fast track" companies will be able to provide a better experience for visitors, the rest of us will slow down - it could be like going back to the time of dial up! (The horror!)

All joking aside, studies have shown that internet users have an extremely limited span of attention. If my website cannot load quickly, visitors will click away before they ever have a chance to see what I have to offer. This could very well be the death of my business.

Now, you make think I'm being overly dramatic, but I live in a relatively rural area, with a local economy that can best be described as "challenged" - running a business is difficult during the best of times. One of the things that keeps me in business is the ability to connect with customers outside my area, via my website.

I'm calling on you to support Net Neutrality; support me and my business, and the dreams of millions of other small business owners. If for no other reason than that the economy is bolstered by our efforts, and you wouldn't want to be seen as being against the economy, right? ;)

I appreciate your time and consideration, and trust that you will act in accordance with the needs of the nation - rather than the desires of corporations.

With great respect,
Heidi Hauck
Small Business Owner
Tax Payer
Well written and researched. An example for the rest of us for how to go about writing this sort of post.
This situation is analogous to the high-frequency trading problem on Wall Street (subject of Michael Lewis's new book "Flash Boys") where the big firms were prevailing and profiting at the expense of the individual investor due to the speed at which trades were routed and executed. Thanks for the insights. Very educational +Sonia Simone !
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