The end of net neutrality is bad for IT, too

The overwhelming majority of IT pros see no upside in deregulating the internet, according to a recent survey

The end of net neutrality is bad for IT, too
Credit: IDG News Service

Predictions of net neutrality's demise have been flying ever since the GOP rout in November. Many consumers are on edge, fearing a return to abysmal speeds for Netflix and other streaming content, as well as skyrocketing broadband prices. But where do American businesses -- especially IT pros -- stand on the issue of regulatory change?

After Trump's victory, Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who this week was named as chairman of that agency, vowed to "fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation." Investment, innovation, job creation -- what's not to like, right?

It may surprise that few outside the telecom industry are crowing along.

Less regulation, more anxiety

While Comcast exec David Cohen called Pai's appointment "terrific for the American consumer and the companies the FCC regulates," and CenturyLink predicted that Pai "will bring a much-needed free market approach to his new role," a survey of American IT pros conducted this month by Spiceworks tells a different story.

The majority of IT pros surveyed see no upside in deregulating the internet. The prospect of regulatory change around net neutrality has "caused anxiety among many familiar with the issue," says Spiceworks analyst Peter Tsai in a blog.

While foes of the rules argue that government regulation of the internet is unnecessary and counterproductive, 82 percent of IT pros surveyed favor keeping the current regulations. Pressed further, 53 percent also believe net neutrality rule are important to the success of their business

Who, me worry?

What are IT pros most afraid of happening if net neutrality goes away? The top concern, cited by 86 percent of those surveyed, is that internet providers could slow or throttle internet speeds for certain content. "For example, ISPs might choose to charge more for high-speed access to common data-intensive services like Netflix and throttle speeds for those who don't pay the high-speed access fee," Tsai said. "Or ISPs might pick favorites among companies they have partnerships with, while throttling their competitors' services."

InfoWorld's Andrew Oliver concurs: "This administration won't stand in the way of big businesses making deals. These kinds of deals create vertical monopolies to the disadvantage of consumers, escalating prices. They also stifle innovation as they price access to the market out of the reach of startups and inventors."

Spiceworks' survey also found that 84 percent of IT pros worry that internet traffic will not be treated equally. "ISPs could become a gatekeeper, censoring content as they please," Tsai said.

Rounding out their list of fears, 83 percent say net neutrality's repeal could threaten free speech, would give too much power to ISPs (78 percent), and would affect revenue at their organization (68 percent).

Businesses will take a hit

If net neutrality is repealed, IT pros expect to feel it in the wallet; 59 percent fear their internet costs will increase. Nearly half also believe access to important internet services will be degraded and their internet connections might become slower.

Oliver also foresees higher rates and lower bandwidth: "With a cable friend in the FCC, I bet the price goes up ... you're going to pay that $100 per month, and by golly you'll get less and like it!"

One-third of IT pros from the survey also believe important internet content will be blocked, and nearly one-quarter believe access to customers might decrease. For example, Tsai said, "a website belonging to a small business might be given less priority than a website belonging to a more established company with deeper pockets.

Oliver warns of this internet tax. "Inevitably if you control all of the on-ramps you can toll everyone, not only Netflix," he says. "Eventually the cut won't be big enough and a profit-maximizing monopoly will do what a profit-maximizing monopoly does. It'll expand its cut of the market and restrict the supply and raise the price to control costs and maximize profit .... The unraveling of the open internet is about to begin."

Only 19 percent of IT pros surveyed believe their organization won't be impacted if net neutrality regulations are repealed.

The coming apocalypse

On his last day as FCC boss, Tom Wheeler reacted to expectations that the incoming administration will kill net neutrality. "This is tragic for the American consumer and the competitive marketplace," he said in a phone interview with Ars Technica. "We're talking about a handful of companies who are lobbying for their own self-interest, and trying to say to the new commission, 'You need to listen to us, not to consumers, not to a competitive marketplace, not to those who could be affected by a network where we act as gatekeepers.'"

"If they are successful," Wheeler warned, "that will put in jeopardy tens of thousands of other companies that rely on open networks and millions of consumers."

People can either rally to defend net neutrality or, in Oliver's words, "sit back and enjoy the internet Trumpocalypse."

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