Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: internet service providers want to create a “fast-lane” for certain websites (namely those who pay for the privilege) at the expense of effectively slowing down other websites. If it seems like we’ve been defending the principles of Net Neutrality for at least a decade you’re not far off (myself included during my early blogging days), but telecom companies continue to spend millions of dollars every year to lobby for policies designed to create an uneven playing field from which they profit but at the expense of consumers. Today I’ve joined thousands of bloggers and websites by participating an Internet Slowdown protest, simulating the same slowdown we might experience if ISPs are able to remove Net Neutrality rules set by the FCC.
First let’s make sure we understands what Net Neutrality is: a guiding principle of the internet that the web should be open and level-playing field for all websites. For the uninitiated, talk show John Oliver has an excellent primer on Net Neutrality and why it’s important:
If you think of ISPs as utility companies which provides internet access the same way your power or water company provide their services, then it’s easy to see why the FCC needs regulatory powers to protect the consumer’s access to an open web. In fact the cable industry’s lobby (NCTA) have challenged regulation, especially as their own video distribution platform is increasingly facing competitors such as Netflix and Hulu, giving them an incentive to favor their own products with faster service.
If you don’t think it’s a problem that cable companies might provide a fast-lane which they would sell to the highest bidder, it’s much more a free-market issue. Consider this from an online marketing perspective: we know from numerous studies that slower pages have higher bounce rates, lower conversions, and Google ranks slower websites lower in search results. In fact, one study estimated that every one second delay in page loading resulted in a -7% reduction in sales. In contrast, we know consumers are more likely to stay on (and return to) websites which load quickly in their browser. Net neutrality isn’t just about providing more competition in the market, but about creating a level playing field for startups to bring innovation on the internet. Especially when considering the number of startups which grew over the last decade are now parts of our everyday lives (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, to name a few) that likely wouldn’t be able to pay an internet toll to get access to the fast lane, it seems obvious that consumers might be less likely to use sites that don’t load as quickly.
So what can you do to help protect Net Neutrality as a policy that keeps the web open and equal? John Oliver encouraged viewers to message the FCC, which resulted in over a million public comments written to their office and enough web traffic to temporarily take their website. While the period for public comments have closed, you can still make an impact by emailing (or better yet call) your congressional representatives and let them know that net neutrality is important to you. You can also help by getting the word out on your blog or even posting on your social media accounts. No matter how you do it, raising awareness as sounding the alarms is key to ensuring net neutrality; as the last decade has proved it’s more important than ever to remain vigilant in protecting these rights.