Today is the Day of Action when the issue of net neutrality is in the headlines. If you are like Nilay Patel, net neutrality is a bit of a moot point because the US has no real choice in ISP. If you are on Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s side, you might be blindly optimistic – for good reason – in hoping that the internet remains a place where neutrality and freedoms reign. While the likes of Comcast and Verizon have sued the FCC over net neutrality issues because of course they have. It wouldn’t look great if the big ISPs came out in favor of something that would allow them to make billions more for providing internet.
There are cities in America where tech is cheap, where companies are moving in order to keep their costs low, where articles are being written about this or that new Silicon Valley – or Prairie, or Steppe, or Hinterland, or Desert. Bend, Oregon is one example of a city that started building an infrastructure to support startups and new businesses, and it has worked to not only support the tech startups, but also, and predictably, growth in almost every other arena as well. The breweries that were able to flourish in the city are just one example. GRanted, it is not simply the tech industry that is behind Bend’s breweries growing, but an influx of people, including those in tech, is.
So, it would seem like net neutrality, especially stopping ISPs from charging premiums for things like extra streaming speed and, I am sure, other ridiculous things that ISPs can track and charge you for. Would you want to stay in a hotel room where they charge you for not only the room, but every time you touch a piece of furniture, every towel you use, every drip of water that comes out of the faucet, how long you spend in the bed, every time you turn the TV on or change the channel, and whatever else they can monitor and charge you for?
For a small business, the bottom line is almost everything. Profit margins are already a constant struggle. Imagine being a restaurant, where good margins are in the 4-6% range, and having to pay even more for your internet, which you now need for your point-of-sale system. On top of paying more for your internet, now your ISP can decide whether to charge you like a credit card company for every transaction on top of your internet fees. Or what about any other small business, could the ISPs charge you based on how many people visit your site? There wouldn’t be much stopping them if they suddenly fall under Title II classification like phone service providers. Imagine the upcharges if you go over your monthly data limit!
As cost per megabyte continues to go down, ISPs already have little incentive to drop the price of their services. But with the ability to nickle and dime customers, especially businesses, there would be even less incentive for them to drop any of their prices while finding new ways to control the flow of data.
Added to net neutrality is the idea that ISPs could block and ban any site that they want. What if a news agency comes out with a scathing article on Comcast? Comcast could potentially stop any of its customers from accessing the site. What if your small business promotes a controversial topic like same-sex unions? Your ISP could potentially shut your site down.
The internet has long been lauded for the ability of users to share ideas, and more. Losing this incredibly open forum would be a huge blow to not just small businesses, but many members of society at large.