Why all businesses should care about Net neutrality

If you think your company has nothing to fear from 'slow lane' Internet, think again

While there's been a massive outpouring of comments on the FCC's noxious Internet "fast lane" proposal, they've generally come from either private individuals or technology businesses with a stake in the other end of the line, such as Google and Apple. We haven't seen much in the way of comments from nontech businesses. I find that somewhat surprising.

Many businesspeople understand the loss of Net neutrality will affect them on a personal level, in that their already overpriced home Internet connection will suffer from reduced service and ever higher prices. However, they don't necessarily see how the loss of Net neutrality or the implementation of a "slow lane" Internet would affect their businesses. After all, they're paying for business-class Internet service that would likely be unaffected, and their business is building and shipping widgets, not serving data to customers across the Internet.

[ Also on InfoWorld: The FCC's Net neutrality plan is much worse than it looks | Who's against Net neutrality? Follow the money | Pick up expert networking how-to advice from InfoWorld's Networking Deep Dive PDF special report and Technology: Networking newsletter. ]

But the loss of a neutral Net will definitely impact nearly every type of business. For example, say your business has infrastructure requirements for remote workers. Those workers will likely be using consumer-grade Internet connections and firing up VPNs to connect back to the main office. Those who currently support these infrastructures can tell you it's already difficult to deal with remote user complaints about speeds, because those users have highly asymmetrical home connections and it takes an hour to upload a big file from their laptop to a corporate server. If we layer on the notion of ISPs being allowed to constrain traffic at a whim without any repercussions, those complaints will get worse.

Under the current proposal, in order for a business to guarantee reasonable access to its VPN subsystem by remote users, it would either have to pay for business-class circuits at each user location or pay every ISP involved in order to have its traffic prioritized. This would be true not only for full-time remote employees, but also for contractors who need remote access and even casual remote users who log in only occasionally.

In a non-neutral network, these users' connections would fall into the lowest tier, potentially low enough on the priority list to make them unusable. Apparently that would be fine with the FCC.

That's one example of how a non-neutral Net would harm businesses of any type, not merely high-tech companies. No matter how you slice it, if we let the big ISPs go without strong open Internet regulations, we will be further subsidizing their business, limiting competition and innovation across all sectors, and reducing our ability to compete with the rest of the world. Europe has strong Net neutrality regulations for good reason, and we are foolish not to follow.

Watching this story play out over the past six months has been interesting, to say the least. The actions taken by the big ISPs are so brazen and transparent that it's actually shocking to see. On top of it all is appalling legislation, such as an amendment Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has attached to a must-pass funding bill that would make it illegal for municipalities to offer their own high-speed Internet.

The possibility of a merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable should never have been floated, much less considered. It's an indefensible idea, one supported only by lies of massive proportion, such as the statement that the cable Internet market is highly competitive -- an insult to anyone's intelligence. Then to discover that AT&T and DirecTV are discussing a merger again bends reality in unpleasant ways.

To put this into perspective, we have plenty of legislators who apparently see no problem with a merger of the two largest Internet service providers in the country, each with terrible customer approval ratings. At the same time, these very legislators are working to prevent cities that are effectively victims of the monopoly from seeking alternatives. All of this is being buttressed with blatant falsehoods and apparently no shame whatsoever.

A small collection of companies that have proven time after time that they cannot or will not provide quality service to their customers, yet have no fear of competition is immensely detrimental to the United States at large. The executives of these companies and the politicians they control might wear nice suits and have nice manners, but make no mistake, they are effectively thugs, and they're robbing the American citizenry blind.

The FCC's public comment period has been extended due to the overload on their servers. I urge you to add your comment to the pile. Educate your family, friends, and neighbors. Send them links to explanations like this wonderful example from Economix Comix.

Net neutrality isn't just about the Internet, but will affect all of us and everything we do. It will create ripples that go on forever. We truly are at a crossroads regarding the future of living -- and working -- in the United States.

This story, "Why all businesses should care about Net neutrality," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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