As someone who spends a fair amount of time commuting between D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, I have a love-hate relationship with the 495 Express Lanes. When the Beltway is congested in Virginia, I have options. I can choose to pay a premium for access to a separate set of traffic lanes. If I can’t or don’t want to pay, I can use the normal traffic lanes. I’ll still get there, but it will take longer. When I’m coming around the corner of the Beltway from Rockville, I have to decide: Will I get enough value out of the price I pay to use the Express Lanes?
At the risk of over-simplifying, that is the premise behind net neutrality. The concept has been around in some form for decades. It pre-dates the Trump and Obama administrations and then some. The basic concept is that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally—regardless of source, destination, content, application, or otherwise. Proponents of net neutrality argue that it protects against discrimination, prevents the creation of paid “express lanes” for Internet traffic, and puts the consumer in control of their Internet experience.
Net neutrality won a huge victory in 2015 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a set of rules known as “Open Internet.” Endorsed by President Obama, Open Internet applies existing common carrier regulations to fixed and mobile broadband Internet service providers. In other words, it treats ISPs like phone companies or other utilities. The FCC states on its website that the policy is designed to prevent the blocking of access to legal content, the throttling of lawful Internet traffic, and the paid prioritization of traffic.
With the arrival of the new administration and new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Open Internet is under attack. While Mr. Pai ostensibly supports net neutrality principles, he disagrees that regulation is the answer. His “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposal could potentially roll back the utility classification. The theory is that competition between Internet providers is by itself enough to maintain a level playing field. Providers can already offer multiple tiers of service to consumers, so they have no need to prioritize traffic within those tiers. And if they did, consumers could simply select a new provider.
The problem is this: With few exceptions, Internet providers are accountable to shareholders or investors. From that perspective, profit is good, but more profit is better. Removal of regulations that support net neutrality would make it theoretically possible for providers to create a new revenue stream by charging content providers a premium for “priority access” to their networks.
That takes us back to the 495 Express Lanes. Some locals affectionately refer to them as the “Lexus lanes”—the implication being that only those with a fat wallet can afford that access. Extend that analogy to the world of content. Consumers expect rich, engaging content, and they expect it to load quickly. Large, established providers like Facebook or Netflix could likely afford relationships where they pay a premium for faster load times. A small business or start-up may not be in that position. If your competitor’s website loads faster than yours does, where do you think your prospective customer will spend more time browsing?
So what can you do?
- Tell Congress and the FCC what you think. The general public is entitled to provide feedback on the proposed rules for a period of 90 days before any vote occurs. This website provides a template of what to write to your congressional representative, and the FCC website provides an email address to send comments to.
- Talk to your Managed Services Provider (MSP) about your Internet provider. Some providers have voluntarily committed to maintaining net neutrality, regardless of how the FCC votes. At Dataprise, members of our Strategic Consulting and Carrier Services teams can help you evaluate options and choose the best provider for your business.
- Talk to your MSP about your content. The debate around net neutrality draws attention to the fact that load times are important. The Dataprise Cloud Services, Network Architecture, and Web Solutions teams can help optimize your data center and your website so that you don’t start out behind the curve.