Small business and startup issues: net neutrality and H.R. 1

Small businesses which are built on the Internet and dependent on it for their livelihoods are threatened by an amendment to the spending bill passed by the House last week. The amendment introduced by Oregon Representative Greg Walden, specifically prohibits the FCC from enforcing its Net Neutrality rules, passed late last year. These rules would effectively maintain a level playing field for small companies, startups, and entrepreneurs. The Net Neutrality FCC rules were designed to prevent large  Internet Service Providers, such as Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and others from controlling web content and determining levels of service and from discriminating in any way against content, applications, or services.

The FCC rules are common sense and fairly straightforward and include several important provisions:

  • Transparency will be required and ISPs would have to disclose information about their network management practices, performance metrics, and commercial terms.
  • “No blocking” rules would prohibit providers from jamming or obstructing any legal content, applications or services. Mobile providers would be exempt from this rule and would be allowed to block certain services and content that might compete with their own services.
  • Discrimination of web traffic would also be forbidden and providers could not unreasonably distinguish between traffic sources or provide one traffic source advantage over another. The FCC would be empowered to monitor the broadband industry and maintain legal competitive practices.
  • Paid prioritization of web traffic would also be banned and providers could not “sell” faster service or better routing to companies.
  • A complaint structure will be implemented which will allow businesses and consumers to file informal complaints through the FCC’s website as well as formal complaints after first notifying the target of the complaint.

The threat that the FCC is addressing with the neutrality rules is a serious and looming issue. The largest providers are in a position to control which sites users can easily access and the speed at which they can do so. The providers are in a position to determine what content will be easy to find in a search and what will remain virtually hidden from view.

It is critical for internet-based businesses and startups that we all have the same ability to reach our audiences, to find customers, and to produce content that we consider valuable without having to worry that a competitor has paid for access or speeds that we have not paid for nor can afford to pay for. The FCC rules are designed to give all businesses, bloggers, media outlets, and individuals equal access to the tubes and to not permit broadband providers to determine who gets that access and how much they will have to pay for it.

No matter what you may think of the budget proposed by the House last week, and no matter how you look at our government, the least they can do is the right thing for small business and allow us to compete fairly and transparently without having to worry that someone else has an advantage that we don’t.

Photo: acroll