Equal access for everyone to the internet is under threat following a decision by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
It may seem a distant decision from across the Atlantic but small businesses in the UK should also be worried by the news that the commission voted to change the way so-called “net neutrality” is governed.
Gary Jowett from Computer & Network Consultants in Brighton says: “If this decision stands, it means that big ISPs in the US could block content and speed up or slow down data accessed from particular websites because they’ve been paid to do so. They could also give preferential treatment to their own content at the expense of competitors. This is clearly a potential threat to smaller businesses in particular as they won’t be able compete on a level playing field and will find it more difficult to sell their services online.”
No commercial incentive
The slim 3-2 victory for the opponents of net neutrality followed President Trump’s appointment of Ajit Pai as chairman of the FCC. Pai’s argument against net neutrality is that ISPs are not investing enough in critical infrastructure because the neutrality rules prevent them from making money from their investments. There’s no commercial incentive to connect some remote rural areas or low-income households.
The UK government is already working with local authorities and commercial partners on its Broadband Delivery UK programme and there are also various community fibre partnerships underway across the UK to tackle the problem Pai highlights in the US. So, the same arguments may not be so persuasive here. However, the potential threat has already been spotted by some people in the UK. A petition in May 2017 called for UK legislation to protect net neutrality. Sadly, it only attracted 12 signatures. It was closed early due to the general election.
So, it’s a wise move for businesses across Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Middlesex and Hampshire to consider the possible loss of net neutrality when they revise their medium and long-term sales and marketing plans. How much of a threat to their revenues could it pose? And what should they do if the worst scenario were to unfold on this side of the Atlantic?
Lobby for net neutrality
Some media commentators in the States are urging American voters to influence congressmen to vote against the FCC decision. And while the problem may seem a world away to some UK firms, it’s clearly worthwhile for British businesses to lobby their own MPs to remind them that this is an issue that could have a significant impact on future competitiveness.
Gary says: “Net neutrality has helped small businesses expand using the digital marketplace. Without it, ISPs could take advantage of their position as gatekeepers of the web, leading to less choice on the internet for consumers and less opportunities for business start-ups.”