Many of us have no idea what net neutrality is, let alone how it could affect small business. A great example was put forth by Rhonda Abrams of the USA Today, where she implies, “Imagine if the electric company could choose to provide better electrical service to companies that paid them a hefty fee and spotty electricity to those that don’t. It would stifle competition from smaller companies and innovative entrepreneurs. That’s what the repeal of net neutrality is going to allow.” You ask how is this possible. The FCC voted in December to repeal the Obama administration’s 2015 ruling that the internet is a utility like water and electricity. The repeal will allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Verizon and Comcast to charge different rates for internet speeds, so-called fast lanes, and allow them to suppress content.
Hold on. There appears to be a dichotomy on the issue here. On one hand, by having net neutrality, you give the government control of another industry, allowing it to suppress content in a Stalinesque manner if it so chooses. Ajit Pai, Chairmen of the FCC and former Verizon attorney, puts it this way, “It’s almost as if the special interests pushing Title II weren’t trying to solve a real problem but instead looking for an excuse to achieve their longstanding goal of forcing the internet under the federal government’s control.”
On the other hand, the repeal of net neutrality takes content control away from the government, and puts it into the hands of the large ISPs like those mentioned. “This ‘pay-to-play’ scenario will hurt smaller companies with fewer financial resources than their larger competitors,” says Ryan Rabac, the manager of digital marketing at the American Sustainable Business Council. As you would imagine, surveys like those done by Paychex, show the disdain for the FCC ruling.
Who would have thought it would come to this decades ago. Many savants have pontificated of Orwellian control, and others of Marxist faith see the rise of corporations as evil. The playing field has never been level between businesses large and small. However, it should not come to the point where entrepreneurs are not incentivized to create wealth. So what can be done? It is not necessarily over at the federal level, although it is unlikely the repeal will be overturned. With that said, “Congress has the power through the Congressional Review Act to overturn the FCC’s actions,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said in a recent news conference. “We will spend the coming months building our grass-roots support for the CRA.” Another glimmer of hope lies at the state level. State legislators are gearing up to protect businesses and consumers in their states by passing bills protecting net neutrality. In addition, The FCC could face challenges to the net neutrality rollback in the form of lawsuits filed by a coalition of more than 20 state attorneys and several advocacy groups.
Mr. Rabac may say it best regarding the future of the internet and small business. “Without the decision taking a reverse direction, ISPs will not move quickly to take advantage of their new freedoms but, eventually, they will.” He goes on to say, “Change will be gradual—a little slow-down here and a fee hike there that may start to nudge your choices and preferences, until one day they hope consumers and businesses will just accept this new normal.” The normal in net neutrality is a lose-lose proposition.