Gini Dietrich

Net Semi-Neutrality: New Rules from the FCC

By: Gini Dietrich | December 22, 2010 | 

Well, the FCC has made their decision on net neutrality and we are now faced with two versions of the web. One where we are protected on our computers, but not on our phones. Which means we can gain access to anything we want if we’re using our browsers, but the wireless carriers can block apps if they want (i.e. AT&T could block Yelp or Verizon could block Facebook).

The rules are, at best, “net semi-neutrality,” according to the New York Times. The rules are bogus, according to Gini Dietrich.

I’ve been pretty outspoken about the need to maintain net neutrality for several months now. I’ve blogged about it and, when I speak, I advise business leaders to pay careful attention to the rulings. I even included it in my trends to pay attention to for 2011. If the neutrality goes away, the way we conduct business will be changed forever.

And it looks like that’s half going to happen. Sort of (nothing like trying to play both sides of the field).

Because this just came down last night, we can only speculate what this means to our businesses, but following is what we do know.

1. Internet service providers are restricted from blocking you from accessing content and wireless providers are prohibited from blocking access to voice applications that compete with their own services. This means you can still access any site from your computer and you can continue using Skype or Google Voice on your phone. But it also means if AT&T decides they don’t want to do business with Yelp, they can block your access of it on your phone.

2. The regulations do not forbid ISPs from creating varying speeds for different types of content, as long as they do so for similar content. For instance, if they decide to send videos to you more slowly, they’d have to do it for YouTube, Vimeo, and all the other sites.

3. It’s still unclear whether or not the ISPs can create a metered payment model, based on your usage. If they are allowed, there soon could be a cable-like payment model, which means you pay for your Internet use based on how much you use it (I’ll probably have to pay $10,000 a month or go to Internet rehab).

4. It’s also still unclear how paid prioritization will play out. This means a business could pay the ISP every month to deliver their content more quickly.

The last two, which are both unclear in the new rulings, are what you’ll really need to watch. If either (or both) of them go through, the web will no longer be a playing field. Small business will no longer be able to compete with big business. And the economy rebound, which is so dependent on our small businesses, could be even more slow.

What do you think this means for business?

P.S. If you’re interested in following the news on this as things change in the next few months, Google “FCC net neutrality” and click on the “follow” button (this is a new service). It will push updates to your email as often (or as little) as you like.

Thanks to Tech Republic for the image

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • JulioRVarela

    This doesn’t surprise me that we are heading this way. Reason is that it’s all about distribution and as we all move towards a more mainstream and larger web distribution channel, traditional companies still want to make money on this. The uproar will happen when people actually start getting charged. I can’t wait for that backlash.

  • GrantGriffiths

    @JulioRVarela Anytime you get the gov’t involved in more regulation there is going to be trouble. And you are exactly right. I wonder what people are going to think when they start paying to access more and more sites. And they pay more to even access the web from everywhere.

    The internet was working just fine as it was. There was completely no need for this type of new regulation to happen.

  • ginidietrich

    @GrantGriffiths @JulioRVarela I’m actually really stressed about what happens if we have to pay for it. ALL of our clients have gigantic web presence and having to have them pay for prioritization makes me a little nauseous. And Grant…totally agree there was no reason for the government to get involved. At all.

  • Very good post! It’s nice to see someone write about FCC items in a way anyone can understand.

    As a branding consultant for both small businesses and extremely large businesses this is very frightening. The idea that a business can ‘buy’ exposure is a step backwards.

    All of this is yet another reminder that small businesses cannot afford to neglect offline marketing methods. A good marketing plan isn’t reliant on one single medium (ie. the internet)

    On the issue of changing the way we pay for the internet, this is just crazy. Again, a big step in the wrong direction. More and more businesses are moving towards offering free wifi, and we’re are all comforatable with the way it is now. I’d imagine the public outcry would be incredible. I for one hope this one doesn’t change a bit…otherwise save me a spot in that Internet Rehab!!!

  • ginidietrich

    @JohnMorgan “A good marketing plan isn’t reliant on one single medium.” Bravo! If Congress gets a hold of this, it could change back, so I’m keeping up-to-date on the latest. Otherwise I’ll plan to see you at rehab!

  • pacebutlercorp

    Great stuff again Gini. I’ll be interested to see how it plays out.

  • ginidietrich

    @pacebutlercorp I’m obsessed so I’ll keep you updated!

  • nateriggs

    Good insights on this Gini. Makes you wonder though, how many people will simply access wifi through their mobile device? Can say, AT&T block access to apps you can use off of an ISP. I access the wifi in my office every single day from my EVO. Seems like the FCC is going to back themselves into a corner on this one…

  • ginidietrich

    @nateriggs Actually, that’s a great point. There are savvy people like us that will figure out how to game the system. But it’ll be difficult to say to clients, “Don’t worry about it. People can still access your app if they use WiFi.” That’s what I’m really stressing about.

  • 3HatsComm

    Gini, I’ll be joining you and JohnMorgan in the Internetz Anonymous rehab for sure.

  • ginidietrich

    @3HatsComm Oh good! All my friends will be there!

  • 3HatsComm

    @ginidietrich @GrantGriffiths @JulioRVarela The reason for government to get involved was to make sure this did not happen, to keep the playing field level, to protect commerce and small business, to make sure that those in power controlling the gates cannot manipulate the Internet to their own agendas. Alas, FAIL and Despair has it right:

  • HowieSPM

    This is a really really really messy situation. You won’t have a good answer from me. But I can give you some thoughts that will make you think. Since I am the resident Finance person besides @Megan , well she does real finance I just have a degree in it. But I do great punditry and analysis!

    The investment to create any network is immense. In my opinion if taxpayers are not paying for part of this investment (we might be I don’t know) we don’t own it. Someone else does. And if they are not allowed to invest their money the way they want, they won’t invest it in the network. They will do something else that generates a higher return to shareholders. That being said the networks have an advantage over websites. They charge us for access. Websites have to either charge us as well or find another revenue avenue like advertising. But they are not guaranteed any funds. In fact I can block all digital ads with Firefox but I can not have internet access without paying someone for that access.

    Is it fair for shareholders who helped pay for a network to be built to have say Youtube sucking up their bandwitdh and not getting a dime from it from YouTube? Not really. This is no different than Cable TV. Not every network has the same channels. And you will see with Mobile some networks choosing to highlight options their competitor does not have. My one big complaint is, for ending net neutrality for mobile, they should end the exhorbitant cancellation fees. I should be allowed to drop verizon tomorrow at no charge if they block Google Droid GPS and Maps should I choose. The problem is phones dont work across networks. maybe they should?

    As for operating speeds. What does it matter. The internet is sloooooowwwwwwww. I never can play Youtube videos without a buffer lag as it is. So we shall see what develops.

  • @3HatsComm @ginidietrich @GrantGriffiths @JulioRVarela There were a few quotes along the lines of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” But I disagree with that. Without regulation, the ISPs can start limiting what sites we have access to, slow down Google, or do whatever they want with our Internet connection. I’m definitely not happy with what the FCC has done so far, but this issues needs to be brought up before the telcos start screwing everyone over.

  • Net neutrality is a huge issues, and what scares me is that the general public doesn’t understand the implications of it all. Heck, I actually have a different view and idea of what’s going on than you do, and we’re both in the field!

    My take aways from the ruling were this (I listen to the buzzoutloud podcast that gives great insight):
    – ISPs can’t make a site pay extra money to get their site to load faster.
    – Mobile isn’t really touched yet – which is a very scary thought.
    – Tiered pricing could still be allowed. Hello digital divide! Now you must be rich to get fast internet!
    – Another major problem – the ISPs are getting in the content business, which means they have conflicted interests.

    What disgusts me the most is that other countries are working so hard on their national broadband strategies to bring the Internet to everyone, and the US is busy figuring out how to regulate. This is a small start to net neutrality, but it scares me that the big companies are working in loopholes to make them more money and to make the Internet less accessible to everyone. We need more advocates for complete net neutrality, and education for the people so we know what is actually at stake.

  • ginidietrich

    @jennalanger We were just talking about this internally and how a President who is one of the most socialist we’ve had maybe ever is supporting change that creates opportunity for big business. And then we digressed into where he’s getting his campaign dollars. But what you’ve outlined in your last three points is what’s really scary to me. No more David beating Goliath. No more equality. No more lean and mean machines winning the prize. I’m really concerned.

  • ginidietrich

    @HowieSPM I can definitely be convinced to see the big business reasons for this, and you make a couple of really great points, but I see this only from my perspective…which is three-fold; as a business owner, as a consumer, and as an advisor to small and medium sized businesses. And from those three lenses, this seems very, very bad.

    Now back to your non-reality friends.

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  • meursault

    I’ve been following the net-neutrality story informally for the past month or so, and honestly, although I like to think I pretty good at analyzing these legal chess games, this one really has me baffled no matter how much I read about it. Perhaps Gini or her readers could help me at least on a couple points.

    Everyone who speaks in favor of the FCC’s new regulations speak in platitudes about how the FCC is now protecting the freedom and openness of the internet and saving us from unpredictable service providers. But, having used the internet for over a decade, I honestly can’t remember any of these alleged threats being a problem.

    That said, are the new FCC regulations preemptively protecting us from these threats? If so, how likely were they to begin with? And, as for creating varying speeds by content, metered payment plans, and paid prioritization, were these tactics/policies previously allowed and the FCC just didn’t ban them through their new regulations, or are they now allowed because of the new regulations.


  • ginidietrich

    @meursault I don’t think it is protecting us from threats. I read it as taking away our accessibility, but things could change with a new Congress. As for the paid prioritization and other stuff, it’s now being allowed because of the new regulations. We’ll see what happens after the first of the year. We’ll keep reading and watching and let you know what happens.

  • bigteethvideo

    I’ve been freaking out about this issue too. Once again our government sides with lining their congressional war chests rather than obvious no-brainer to keep the Internet open for all of us to use.

    Here’s a good site to keep up on people fighting for ACTUAL Net Neutrality:

  • ginidietrich

    @bigteethvideo I feel like there are only a handful of us freaking out about this. I don’t get why people aren’t more concerned!

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