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Industry Insights

Internet ensnared in web of special interests


The New York Times had a column several years back that explained net neutrality with a refrigerator. Essentially, it went like this: The consumer pays the electric utility the same rate for the power to keep the fridge cold, regardless of what’s inside or what brand of refrigerator that shopper buys.

Getting rid of net neutrality, the example went, is like letting your utility also charge you for what you store in that refrigerator while rewarding — or penalizing — you for what make and model fridge you have in your kitchen.

At its heart, this is what’s so bad about doing away with net neutrality, for both consumers and small businesses. By putting internet traffic up for sale to the highest bidders, the biggest businesses — whether that’s Amazon, Netflix or cable-managed services like AT&T’s DirectTV — can ensure they snare a bigger portion of the market by paying for “fast lanes.”

The cable providers, meanwhile, get to charge even more, despite operating in a space in which mysterious fees, spotty service and inefficient support is more common than not.

If you’re a small-business owner and you’re not nervous, you’re not paying attention. Allowing internet service providers to limit speed based on whether you’re paying a tax for faster service — a fee that won’t hinder big businesses in search of another edge in the market — is about one step removed from being paid a visit from sharply dressed gentlemen who compliments you on what a nice little business you’ve got here, but then warns it would be a shame if anything were to happen to it.

Your site traffic is bound to suffer as customers, fed up with slow speeds or grainy media, leave in search of the Amazons and Jets of the world. And while retail is an easy example, it’s not the only industry that will be upended by the loss of net neutrality — the list includes media, education, entertainment, dining, tourism, and on and on.

The Federal Communications Commission will have voted to end the long-held practice of net neutrality shortly after its chairman, Ajit Pai, at an industry dinner, had fun with the idea that having once been a Verizon lawyer, he was now on the verge of giving the telecom industry what it most wants.

You’ll forgive us for not laughing. The only people getting a chuckle out of this  are the internet service providers as they prepare to turn a level playing field into a complex, expensive minefield of bundled services and premium content they will charge even higher fees for, costs that will rank among the world’s most expensive.

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