Why we must stay vigilant after net neutrality judgment

It is just over a week since the USA’s Federal Communications Commission voted to pass new regulations on net neutrality.

Posted on 06 March 2015 - Net Neutrality
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Since then, there has been a lot written and said, for and against the ruling. We thought it was about time to give our input.

Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to learn on which side of the argument we fall. We think that net neutrality is self-evidently a good thing, so any move towards it can only be a good thing.

The FCC judgment is quite narrow in that it applies only to US broadband providers that connect homes or businesses to the internet. Nonetheless, the principle laid down is fundamentally important and, as a result, it is an unbelievably significant judgment for the whole internet.

The principle of the FCC judgment in a nutshell

The principle is that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cannot throttle or prioritise IP traffic depending on type. That means all content and all users must have their traffic treated equally by their ISP.

The internet has been shaped, defined even, by the likes of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Reddit, Twitter and Instagram. All these businesses began as small startups in a garage or spare room and were able to get big by virtue of their ideas and their customers' interest in them. There was no barrier to entry in terms of trading on the internet. Their access to the internet and the internet’s access to them was equal, which meant they could trade on the web like any of the big boys.

Had the FCC ruled differently, it is probable that companies like those would not succeed in the future because it would be too expensive to set-up or the experience their customers had on their website would be so bad as to force them out of business.

The golden age of creation, disruption and excitement through online businesses would have been snuffed out. Only companies with deep pockets from Day 0 would be able to afford the fees the broadband companies in America would levy to get businesses started online.

Corporate interests

It is not just startups that would have suffered. There would also have been a major worry about charities, which might also have been priced out of a significant web presence, and pressure groups. With the regulation passed, corporate interest cannot lean on a cable provider to throttle traffic. That ensures critical voices can continue to be heard on the internet.  

There was and remains enormous corporate money behind the drive to eliminate net neutrality. That’s coming from companies directly affected by the regulations, but also those organisations who find the internet as we have known it until now to be far too unruly. Those firms like the status quo and don’t want a new Google or Netflix starting up in their sector and taking a slice (or all) of the pie.

All of us in the internet industry - across web, apps, networks, UX, design, education and hosting - need to stay vigilant to the threat and counter the anti-net neutrality PR when we encounter it.

But thank goodness, the ruling has protected the web as we know it, preserved the opportunity for the best ideas to get to the top, regardless of where they started. Anyone with a winner idea and a garage, attic or spare room can be the next Google. Well done, Open Internet campaigners.