The intended repeal of net neutrality by the FCC will affect all of us. We’re likely to see the first changes as they affect the cost and availability of streamed programming and premium content; less is likely to cost more. We don’t know, yet, how it will affect search engines and your ability to find local businesses or anything else on the internet.
Let’s start with a quick review of the history of the internet. It began as a level playing field for exchanging information worldwide, and it led to a communications revolution. It mightily disrupted the communications industry’s business models in every way imaginable.
Telephone calls, for example, are free or cost just pennies per minute to almost anywhere in the world. We can even make video calls for free. The internet, in this case, took away a revenue stream from traditional telephone carriers – and added a business capability for the cable TV industry.
Telephone service – or voice communication – became essentially a throw-in for telephone carriers and cable providers. Even if they were restricted in some markets in certain ways, at least one of each plus a satellite carrier could compete for your business. That led to service tiers and bundles of programming that customers were likely to buy.
Cable or satellite TV, in turn, was impacted by the internet. You don’t need a cable connection – or a satellite dish – to get all manner of visual content: TV shows, movies, etc. All you had to do was buy and install a good Wi-Fi system in your home and pay for fast enough internet service, and you could pick and choose what you wanted to watch.
This setup, which has continued until now, has allowed a number of smaller, innovative companies to get into the content business, either as producers or carriers. Companies that have innovated in some way, shape or form have become big-time players in the internet. Google, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and the like are relatively new companies that grew rapidly by exploiting technology.
But those companies are not ISPs (Internet Service Providers). The ISP business is essentially comprised of telephone and cable carriers, and that business has been commoditized. How many of us have switched ISPs at the drop of a hat to save a few bucks on basic services or add new features for very little additional cost? How many of us have simply dropped cable or satellite TV?
One of the factors that has contributed to our freedom of choice is Net Neutrality. Simply put, it is a governmental regulation that prohibits any ISP from blocking or slowing down virtually any content from virtually any provider. If you pay for 300-mbs internet service or 1-gigabit service, you can get it at that speed because the ISP can’t block it or slow it down.
That’s different from most cable or satellite TV services. Ever since their inception, they have sold blocks of programming in tiers. The more programming you want, the more you pay. If you want to pay less, you sacrifice choice – or you choose not to get high-definition service. That was OK because with Net Neutrality, you could get programming over the internet, and you could price your service more selectively.
The removal of Net Neutrality means that your internet service will now be bundled like cable/satellite TV programming. You want to stream Netflix or Amazon programming? There could be a premium charge for that. You want to stream sports or news programming? Your ISP can negotiate with the program providers to determine which ones they’ll carry and at what data speeds. No matter how it happens, your cost is likely to go up.
And there’s more. What about your favorite search engine? Why has Google fought so hard to become the dominant search engine? Why does Facebook keep trying to expand its user base? You know why: they can get more advertising dollars. Who doesn’t get any benefit from that now? Your ISP.
With the removal of Net Neutrality, search engines will need to strike deals with ISPs just like programmers have had to do, and then you’ll have to decide on an ISP based on a search engine you might want – as well as what websites you might want to access. Or, will some carriers show preferences for certain businesses? What’s to prevent one from favoring a shopping site over others in return for a higher access fee? What’s to prevent a consumer products company from being priced out of a website presence by bigger, well-financed conglomerates?
All of the innovation that we’ve seen? It’s going to be harder and harder for startups to get a foothold. We think the end of Net Neutrality will lead to higher prices and fewer choices for anything that we’ve become accustomed to finding on the internet. At least that will be the case until something new comes along. You can bet somebody’s hard at work developing the next alternative.
In the meantime, you can count on us to help you navigate the new world of the internet. We can help you select and install the networking equipment you’ll need to be compatible with your ISP and/or TV provider and make sure all interfaces and security systems function properly. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with any questions you have as Net Neutrality events unfold.