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Columns

Guest View: Net neutrality helps small businesses, is worth saving

The Federal Communications Commission is offering consumers the chance to pay more for internet service and make their favorite websites load slower.

If that sounds like a bad deal to you, then you should oppose the FCC's plan to roll back net neutrality regulations.

Net neutrality has been in and out of the news for the past couple of years, ever since a 2015 vote by the Federal Communications Commission to impose the regulations.

If you haven't heard of the concept of net neutrality or need a basic definition of it, here it is: The networks over which we get our information should not discriminate between one bit of data and another.

For example, Verizon can't slow down Google for its customers in order to make it more convenient for Verizon customers to use the Yahoo search engine, which it owns. Net neutrality also prevents companies such as Verizon from charging more for high-quality streaming like 4k content, which takes up more bandwith than standard definition content.

And that makes sense. It's good principle. It treats America's internet service providers as a utility.

But FCC chairman Ajit Pai wants to change that. The FCC will vote to roll back net neutrality on Dec. 14. The five-person panel has three Republicans on it, and it is widely expected to pass.

If you disagree with regulating the internet like a utility, try starting and thriving as a small, local business in late 2017 without fair internet access. If you have to rely on e-commerce, which numerous studies show business increasingly are, it's difficult to sell your product when your website speed is throttled down.

Those that rely on e-commerce may face the reality that a giant corporation like Amazon could be in the "fast lane" of the internet, while a local small business could reside in a designated "slow lane" because the little guy doesn't have a voice with a broadband provider. Amazon, as a giant corporation with heavy influence, could negotiate its way into a fast lane with Comcast, while Sue's Salads has no leverage to get into a fast lane.

According to a Google subsidiary, DoubleClick, 53 percent of online visits are abandoned if a web page takes longer than three seconds to load. If a small business site takes 10 times longer to load than Amazon, who is getting my business? Not the small, local business.

There's also an oft-repeated canard against net neutrality making the rounds. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, made the biggest headlines with his version, after a confusing bridge analogy.

"Isn't that kind of a similar analogy, is that a pretty good analogy in terms of what net neutrality is all about, not allowing for example a company that is going to invest billions of dollars in the pipeline, not allow them to sell a prioritized lane, for, oh, I don't know, doctors who want to prioritize distant diagnostics?" Johnson said. "They're going to have to share that same pipeline, no prioritization, with, for example, people streaming illegal content or pornography? Tell me where that analogy is maybe not accurate."

Ah yes, the porn vs. medicine analogy. You know where that's wrong, senator? The actual FCC order on net neutrality.

Net neutrality already distinguishes between broadband service (what you and I have in our homes) and non-broadband service, to allow for medical services to operate at necessarily faster speeds. Medical services already have a fast lane available to them under the 2015 net neutrality order. So, no, the speed of your MRI does not depend on how many people are or aren't looking at porn, which is a good thing because there are a lot of them.

Let's go back to where we started, with one change: Would you like to pay more for your internet in order to increase the profit margin for broadband providers?

Net neutrality is a good deal for consumers and small business owners. It's worth saving.

John Sahly is the managing editor for digital content for Shaw Media. Reach him at jsahly@shawmedia.com or on Twitter @JSahly.

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