What Is Net Neutrality, and How Does It Impact Me?

Unless you haven’t read the news or avoid social media like the plague, you’ve no doubt heard of net neutrality — and you know there’s a lot of controversy surrounding it.

It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how the discussion surrounding net neutrality affects you as a small business owner, and what you might lose or gain by its repeal. How much will the end of net neutrality affect you, and what will the internet look like in a few years?

It’s impossible to answer these questions with any certainty, as there’s still pending legislation and ongoing court challenges today. But to help you understand what those answers might be, let’s backtrack a bit and review what net neutrality actually means.

What is net neutrality?

In a nutshell, net neutrality is the idea that you should have equal access to all online content. Instead of an internet service provider controlling what content you view, the choice of what to see or do online falls to the consumer.

To put it another way, the idea behind net neutrality is that every website (no matter the size) should have an equal opportunity to reach a given audience.

In 2005, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) (the government agency tasked with regulating digital communications) updated their Communications Act to include regulations stating that consumers can view any legal content they choose, and that an internet company cannot restrict access to any online service.

In 2015, the FCC further expanded these regulations by putting basic net neutrality rules in place. These rules dictated that internet providers weren’t allowed to block websites, throttle access to services, or give more benefits to a select number of websites whose owners paid them more. There weren’t any extra barriers between a business — including a small business like yours — and its ability to reach customers online.

What does this mean for my business?

As the FCC and its decision-makers shifted, a vote to repeal the net neutrality rules occurred last December.

This change concerned many small business owners, as The Harvard Business Review reported that a net neutrality repeal could have a big impact on them. Without net neutrality, internet service providers are allowed to increase the costs of fast access to specific sites. For example, they might require that businesses pay extra for quicker loading times on social media sites, which might hinder your online marketing efforts if you have a limited budget to work with.

The repeal of net neutrality could also lead to “fast lanes” for certain websites that pay higher prices to their own service providers. For example, if Facebook paid more for internet service than Twitter, it would load faster than Twitter.

In this way, net neutrality affects both site owners and end users. As a small business owner, it could impact you from both directions (depending on the policies your service provider and your web builder or host ultimately put in place).

It should be noted that with or without net neutrality, internet service providers can’t completely block specific sites. They can simply slow them down or speed them up.

Looking forward

Only time will tell if net neutrality will really affect small businesses — all we can do for now is speculate.

The consequences described above are worst-case scenarios. Hopefully, there will be enough competition between service providers to keep costs low and customer service a priority. There may also be new legislation or court orders that put net neutrality back in place.

No matter what happens, it’s important to understand why net neutrality existed and why its repeal matters to your small business.


Sarah Li Cain

A B2B and personal finance writer who has appeared in publications such as Credit Karma, Magnify Money and Lending Tree.

More by Sarah Li Cain

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