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Net Neutrality: For It or Agin’ It?’s been a lot of media attention lately to the issue of net neutrality. Essentially, net neutrality means that Internet service providers of broadband would be regulated like a public utility. It would be up to the government to dictate what actions these providers could and could not take with respect to certain customers or content providers.

Toward this end, the FCC is working on regulations to reflect net neutrality. One idea put forward recently by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would be to impose strict guidelines for certain businesses (e.g., content providers) (essentially employing 1930s public utilities rules) while using less stringent rules for consumers.

Unintended consequences
What regulation would do to the Internet is unclear. While those in favor of net neutrality assure the naysayers that it would merely protect the public and provide a level playing field for all users, those opposed to net neutrality argue that it could:

  • Limit innovation
  • Cut jobs
  • Increase costs (ISPs’ higher costs of compliance would be passed on to their users)
  • Harm investment in broadband deployment and infrastructure, which would mean inferior broadband service for consumers and small businesses and/or that those consumers who currently lack broadband access may never get it

Where the parties stand
President Obama is in favor of net neutrality, which was part of his campaign platform in 2008. His concern is that content providers such as Netflix could make deals with ISPs and receive better access (so-called “fast lanes”) than you and me by paying for this usage. The CEOs of Tumblr and Meetup, as well as many others, support net neutrality.

But there is opposition by many organizations, including Broadband for America. In addition, many small business groups are opposed as well. The SBE Council is opposed to it (find its position here). The Council recognizes that the Internet as it is now has provided small businesses tremendous opportunity (my business depends entirely on the Internet). As part of a delegation from the Counsel we met in late October with all five SEC commissioners or members of their staff to discuss the concerns of small business owners.

From my view, the regulations that could come out by the end of the year are attempting to fix what isn’t broken; they are addressing a potential concern. What’s more, countries such as China are also trying to regulate their Internet usage, and who wants to be like China? Needless to say, like the SBE Council, I’m agin’ it.