Last week, in the US, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeat legislation that protects the neutrality of access to the Internet. Although the fight for Net Neutrality continues, this is a worrying development for independent web publishers, and not just those in the USA.
A (very) brief explanation of Net Neutrality
Net Neutrality means that ISPs provide access to the internet in a fair way, irrespective of what content you consume. The alternative is access that favours particular content by making it cheaper or faster to access.
Why this is bad news for independent publishers
Smaller and independent publishers potentially have the most to lose through these changes. Without the resources to secure and pay for a spot on “internet fast-lanes”, independent publishers could find themselves on forgotten, traffic-free backwaters.
Publishers outside of the USA are not immune to the impact of the so-called rollback of net neutrality either. Publishers around the world rely on the high rates from US traffic to support their operations.
Net-neutrality keeps the playing field level
Many of the ISPs pushing for the rules protecting Net Neutrality to be rolled back are publishers themselves. Verizon owns AOL and Yahoo. Comcast owns NBC, AT&T, has a stake in Otter Media and is trying to merge with Time Warner. A very real fear is that such ISPs will provide faster or unmetered access to the publishing properties that they own, severely disadvantaging competitors.
Speed is paramount on the internet and users who must choose between fast content and content that has been slowed down by their ISP will hugely favour the fast content. That not only means less traffic for those sites “in the slow lane”, but also reduce engagement and revenue from their remaining traffic.
Alongside speed of access, ISPs would also gain control of cost of access if Net Neutrality legislation is repealed. With mobile web consumption now the norm, and continuing to grow, data allowances on mobile web access are critical. ISP packages that include unmetered mobile access to approved sites would squeeze out competitors and cut-off long tail of the web.
Looking beyond the publisher business, repealing Net Neutrality raises a host of other concerns from censorship and free speech to ad injection.
How does that effect users in other countries?
The big current debate is with regards to ISPs in America giving access to the internet to American users. It does not directly impact end users in other territories. However, ISPs in other countries will no-doubt be watching the results closely.
Can you do anything about this?
Anyone motivated to take action over these changes should visit battleforthenet.com. US citizens can easily contact congress from that site. There are also some useful widgets for website owners to encourage others to do the same.