Whether you are just starting a new website for the first time, or you’ve been publishing content online for years, you’ve likely heard a little bit about net neutrality. Most people, however, aren’t really sure what it is or how it could affect you and your website.
As website owners, it is very important to take a little bit of time to understand the pros & cons of net neutrality, and try to keep up on any possible changes in this area of law.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the concept that data on the internet should all be treated equally by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), no matter where it is coming from or where it is going. Proponents of net neutrality want laws put in place that say that these ISPs can’t discriminate based on the type of data, even if some customers pay for faster service. The worry is that large companies like Google (YouTube) and Netflix could pay for priority service. If put in place, this would effectively slow down the speed at which traffic is processed for smaller sites.
Currently there is no law that requires that ISPs or other telephone companies transmit all the data equally. Despite this fact, however, there has only been one example of an ISP slowing down certain types of data. This occurred when Comcast slowed down, or throttled, the traffic that was used in peer-to-peer sharing services for certain customers. They did this because these services are primarily used by those who are downloading illegal music and movies, and they take up a disproportionate amount of bandwidth.
Benefits of Net Neutrality
Even proponents of net neutrality agree that putting new laws in place to prevent ISPs from throttling traffic, or providing priority service to certain companies is a preventative step. The main benefits of having net neutrality laws on the books would be that it will provide a certainty to companies and individuals that have an online presence that the ISPs won’t begin charging extra for getting traffic.
The internet has grown and developed at such a remarkable rate because, in part, of the fact that website owners could count on the fact that people could easily get to their site without a problem. If ISPs begin ‘playing favorites’ it will be more difficult for new websites to develop, which will stifle innovation.
Disadvantages of Net Neutrality
There are many people who are against putting net neutrality laws on the books too. Some of the problems associated with these types of laws include the following:
- Prioritizing Traffic is Necessary – Some argue that when there is a surge of traffic, ISPs must pick and choose what gets processed first in order to keep critical services running.
- Large Data Users Using Bulk of Traffic – Currently everyone is getting the same priority of service. A company like YouTube or NetFlix doesn’t have to pay any more than a small website. This necessarily means that smaller companies end up paying more than their fair share.
- Solution without a Problem – Another common complaint by opponents of net neutrality is that it is a solution to a problem that does not exist (yet).
Why should Small & Medium Sized Website owners Care?
Net neutrality is a fairly complex issue with passionate people on both sides. For many website owners, it seems like something that won’t directly impact them in any significant way. In reality, however, changes to net neutrality laws could have major impacts in how site owners manage their sites.
If ISPs begin to charge for priority service, it you may experience some of the following issues:
- SEO Concerns – If your site begins to run slowly or even stop responding from time to time, it could have a negative impact on your site’s rankings in Google.
- Higher Fees – Currently most websites don’t have to directly pay ISPs for their traffic to be processed. This is because hosting providers, like InterServer, pay these costs. If the ISPs start charging for priority service, however, the individual website owners will likely have to pay higher costs each month.
- Additional Technical Concerns – Thanks to webhosting services and easy to use software, it no longer takes a tech wiz to make a website. If site owners need to start worrying about how their web traffic is being processed, it will require a certain level of technical knowledge to track properly.
- Outbid – The reality is that if ISPs allow companies to pay for priority service, nobody will be able to outbid the major players like Google, Facebook, NetFlix and Amazon. They could effectively make it so only their sites would load with any reliability.
Following the legal trends regarding net neutrality is something that all website owners should be doing. Whether you are for these types of laws or against them, the reality is that they will have a bigger impact on the life of website owners than most others. This means you should take the responsibility to keep up to date with the news, and contact legislators when necessary to let them know what you want in this very important matter.