The FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules: Could they Affect Small Business?
The FCC has been making headlines as they attempt to parse out the debate surrounding “net neutrality”. What this is is essentially the concept that all information on the internet should be given the same level of priority, that no legal content should be blocked and that no internet service providers should act in a “commercially unreasonable manner” by favoring traffic from affiliates. However, a storm of controversy has arisen surrounding the possibility that internet service providers could still create tiered levels of bandwidth, segregating the internet into “fast lanes” for corporate entities that can afford them and lumping in other sites into slower channels. It’s not difficult to imagine this setup favoring the already wealthy, but conversely, the impact on small business could be equally devastating.
The crux of the debate: speed and bandwidth. While the rules that FCC head Tom Wheeler proposes make very clear that any legal content on the internet cannot be blocked, there is a difference between not allowing content to be blocked and allowing it the same ability to be viewed. Content that loads instantaneously, compared to content that is artificially slowed will naturally be pushed to the top of search results and accumulate more views. In practical terms, this means that any content that is able to be pushed through priority channels will have an edge over the rest of the content on the internet. Cable companies will be given an undue amount of influence over the shape of the internet should they be able to determine the priority given to content.
How it could affect small business. While it’s already tough for small businesses to compete with larger corporate entities due to a lack of small business loan options and tight budgets that make it essential to fine tune digital marketing strategies and define the areas they are able to serve, a tiered internet could be disastrous for small businesses who have made efforts to improve their local SEO and optimize their websites. Should they not be able to support the cost of priority bandwidth, they could fall from search results as traffic moves away to faster channels and find their messages quickly buried under local corporate competition. The internet is a powerful tool for business owners as long as it is able to work for them in a way that is not overshadowed by messages taking priority to theirs. Business owners should think critically about the implications of this legislation and make up their own minds on how to react.
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