Why small businesses may want to advocate for net neutrality


The debate over net neutrality, for me, comes down to a basic question: Can I still get easy access to webcasts of the Club Atlético Rosario Central soccer games?

When I became a fan of this Argentine team 15 years ago, it was nearly impossible to see one of their games. Internet and mobile phone proliferation since then now makes it possible for me to watch all their games, and on my cellphone from anywhere. At home. A bar. The airport.

In part because we have, in layman’s terms, a global, egalitarian internet where I can watch a soccer game on the other side of the hemisphere just as easily as I will watch this Sunday’s Miami Dolphins game.

Net neutrality makes it so by equally treating content on the internet, be it sporting matches, shopping deals, news, or YouTube videos. As a result, you and I as internet consumers have a reasonably easy time finding content we want to find by virtue of the keywords we use to search for it.

There are those who say net neutrality is a moot point because of targeted advertising and other guerrilla marketing practices, and there is some truth to that. But I think most of use would agree that net neutrality still exists.

At least until Dec. 14. That’s the date the Federal Communications Commission has set to vote on new regulations that critics say will be the end of net neutrality by overturning rules passed two years ago barring internet service providers from blocking or giving preference to broadband content.

Tips on negotiating deals from 2017 top deal-maker Lisbeth Barron

I am far from an expert on any of this. Which is why my interest in the topic comes down to self-interest — can I still see programming I want to see.

So I posed the question to a former FCC official who was at the agency in the early days of internet regulation.

Joy Howell, who served as director of the Office of Public Affairs at the FCC from 1998 to 2001, said eliminating net neutrality is a mistake that could deal a big blow to small businesses.

UberEATS opens new markets to cafe, pizza restaurant

“Right now the FCC has rules in place that make sure all content on the Internet is pretty much distributed at the same pace,” said Howell. “If they go away, then major corporations or monied interests would be able to pay to get faster distribution of their content over Joe the Blogger, even small businesses, which are the engines of growth in this country.”

Howell, who lives in Delray Beach and runs short-term luxury rental properties, pointed out that one reason there has been a proliferation of successful small businesses in the past decade or so is because of access to the internet. The web has fueled a lot of innovative start-ups simply by giving them a level playing platform in which to compete.

In her case, Howell pointed out, in a net neutral landscape she can purchase ads to boost her properties listings on search engines, which increases the chances of rentals.

End of ‘frivolous’ lawsuits? Local businesses see tort cases rise

All that is at risk if net neutrality is ended, she insisted.

“The question is whether the internet is a utility, like phones and electricity,” she said. “The reason phones and electricity are regulated as utilities is because they were deemed, way back when, to be indispensable to business. For businesses to succeed, they needed access to those. I’d argue the internet is now just as indispensable to business.”

I played devil’s advocate with Howell because I do think net neutrality has a dark side, too.

Meaning, our staff at The Palm Beach Post works hard to produce news in the public interest following strict certain principles and standards. But when our content, from community coverage to investigative reports to consumer watchdog news, goes digital it has to compete with tons of fluff and nonsense because net neutrality values it all the same.

So, I said, eliminating net neutrality could give bigger, true news organizations leverage to allow our content to supersede that which masquerades as news.

Howell agreed, in theory, that could be the case. But she worries that ending net neutrality will mean internet service providers will evolve from simply managing platforms where content is distributed to also producing their own content. And once the ISPs have their own proprietary content, why would they allow yours or mine to compete with it?

“If they own their own content, who are they going to favor?” she asked rhetorically. “Me? A small business? Or their own content?”

If so, then what seems to be worth keeping is not so much a neutral internet but, rather, an accessible internet.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in

S. Florida among ‘overvalued’ housing markets to make first cut for Amazon’s HQ2
S. Florida among ‘overvalued’ housing markets to make first cut for Amazon’s HQ2

As Amazon decides which of 20 metro areas to name the home of its second headquarters, how heavily will it weigh housing costs? That’s an open question, but the ecommerce giant seems not to be turned off by frothy housing markets. More than half of the 20 finalists -- including South Florida -- have home prices that are “overvalued...
Florida considers ending fee to freeze credit as Equifax leads gripes
Florida considers ending fee to freeze credit as Equifax leads gripes

Florida officials including two Cabinet officers want to whack a $10 fee to freeze your credit report after hacked credit reporting agency Equifax emerged as the state’s most complained-about company in 2017 in beefs to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Indiana, South Carolina, Maine and North Carolina “do not charge this...
Government shutdown: Veterans exchange remains open
Government shutdown: Veterans exchange remains open

A tax-free online shopping exchange opened to veterans last fall including more  than 91,000 in Palm Beach County will remain open during the government shutdown, officials said Saturday. Former US Air Force pilot Gregg Matous holds a photograph of himself with a U-2 spy plane at his home in Jupiter. (Richard Graulich...
Owners do not get an official vote at board meetings

Question: During an HOA board meeting, is it common practice to allow the members in the audience to have a vote on board business? I know the members are allowed to speak if recognized, but going through our bylaws and the Florida statues I have found nothing pertaining to members having a vote along with the board. It seems to me that the board was...
Billionaire developer Jeff Greene sues gossip site for libel
Billionaire developer Jeff Greene sues gossip site for libel

Contending that an article on the GossipExtra website was libelous, billionaire developer Jeff Greene has sued gossip columnist Jose Lambiet. In a suit filed this month in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Greene calls Lambiet’s reporting “grossly inadequate.” Greene’s claim focuses on a Dec. 3 piece titled, “Is Billionaire...
More Stories