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What is net neutrality and how can it affect your business?

The topic of net neutrality has been the subject of many discussions on US forums and forums for a long time. To first understand why many companies are so upset about the issue, you need to understand what net neutrality is.

What is net neutrality? According to a Business Insider article, net neutrality prevents internet providers from dictating the types of content users can access online. Instead, Internet providers are required to treat all sources of traffic equally. Why is this topic so controversial that the US Court of Appeals had to intervene? Because Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast want to charge for the use of their networks. That is, these providers will have the ability to choose what consumers see online and then charge content providers.

Internet speed is basically a lump sum game. If your competition can afford to pay to drive in the fast lane, then by default your small business is placed in the slow lane. The deeper the company’s pockets, the more competition they can overcome on the way to new customers. Right now, many small bloggers and new websites have exactly the same opportunity to reach an audience as large corporations. However, it is important that you understand what net neutrality is and how it may affect you. When reduced, net neutrality means that all data is equally accessible over the Internet. This means that regardless of whether you are a small accounting firm or one of the big name international firms, you have equal access to posting information and accessing other information via the web. You also have to factor in things like advertising and marketing budgets to get the word out, but in terms of affordability, you’re on a level playing field with the big dogs. If net neutrality goes out the window, so does equal accessibility. Some things to consider:

Pay more for better access:

No net neutrality means Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be able to create accessibility tiers, which means they can start demanding more money for better accessibility. Smaller companies with tight budgets will not be able to compete for access with larger companies that can afford the new rates. It also means that there is nothing stopping big companies or competitors from paying ISPs to delay access to other sites, which would put them out of business.

Limited access to content:

ISPs may limit what you have access to based on their own corporate interests. From Business Insider: “For example, Comcast would probably like to promote NBC over ABC content to its Internet subscribers. That’s because Comcast and NBC are affiliated. But net neutrality prevents Comcast from being able to discriminate, and it should show both NBC and ABC content evenly as a result. That means no slower loading time for ABC, and definitely no blocking of ABC entirely.” If net neutrality goes away, there’s nothing to prevent corporate discrimination like this, which means your vendor storefronts may be limited to just those on Rodeo Drive. Your favorite sources of information may not be as available to you as they are now.

Limited access for potential customers:

While the example above explained how you would be limited in what you could access (potentially increasing costs to your business as your options dwindle), it also works the other way around. Prospects will now also have a harder time finding it. Entrepreneur compares this to buying cable television: “Rather than being able to sell to anyone with an Internet connection…entrepreneurs would see their customers limited to those who paid for the ‘Internet package’ that covers access to their particular website. It would be like your cable TV plan: the more you pay, the more channels you get.” In essence, your customers may only be directed to the Rodeo Drive storefront and not realize that there are more efficient and equally effective options out there just like you.

Slow loading times:

So let’s say ISPs don’t completely block access to those sites that aren’t part of their approved network. That doesn’t mean they won’t try to incentivize you to visit their favorite sites. They can do this by interrupting streaming or slowing down load times on websites that don’t pay a premium. The speed and reliability of a site can do it right or wrong. Admit it, you just decided to abandon a page when it took more than a couple of seconds to load. That impatience is universal and could affect the traffic on your website. And if you wanted to get into video marketing and stream on your website, you might be in the creek without a paddle (slowly, very slowly drifting).

Leveraging Video Marketing:

SMBs that rely on video (like YouTube, Netflix, etc.) as part of their marketing strategy could be affected if net neutrality is removed. For example, if your company broadcasts video to homes across the country, or if you want customers to view videos of your company’s products, you are likely to be affected. Similarly, if SMBs can’t pay ISPs to share their content, your potential customers may not be able to watch your product videos and may not be tempted to buy your products. Furthermore, the investment in producing and optimizing the videos will result in a financial loss. The FCC’s decision, therefore, could have an impact on your SMB and how you will be able to access the Internet in the future.

As a small business owner, it’s important to understand net neutrality. The decisions that are made could possibly have an impact on your small business and how you will be able to access the Internet in the future.

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