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Technology is the great equalizer for many businesses.  Because tech is based on creative ideas, and it’s popularity is supported by the masses, there is something strangely entrepreneurial and democratic ingrained in the DNA of today’s internet based technology.  The internet accelerated the democratization of tech.  Small businesses can sell items to anyone with a credit card (or other on-line payment options) all over the globe.  Tech based entrepreneurs can take a niche market that might have a hard time finding sufficient support in their local customer base and extend their reach globally.  Although search engine optimization and on-line advertising helps businesses attain the search engine “first page” status, on-line businesses and organizations were always on a fairly level playing field, but some are trying to change that.
Think about the web sites you visit.  You obviously want fresh content, good information and an attractive layout that is functional across both desktop and mobile platforms.  As consumers access your site, they also want a page that is accessible, with information that loads quickly and consistently.  The speed in which people can access the web is currently dictated by three variables: 1. The speed at which the consumer’s internet device accesses the internet.  2.  The speed at which the server containing the web information accesses the internet.  and 3. The speed of the pipeline between those two users.  This level playing field among users and web sites is referred to in technological circles as “Net Neutrality”.  It doesn’t matter who or where you are, or what web site you own, if you are in a free country without excessive government controls you essentially have access to the same internet.  Recent campaigns are seeking to change that neutral balance in very specific ways.
Large pipeline management companies (national or international telephone companies, for example) can use a process called Deep Packet Inspection to alter content available to end users, change the speed at which content becomes available or block content all together.  In the past, this type of behavior violated the concept of Net Neutrality, but recent court rulings have changed the interpretation of rules preventing a neutral internet.  The Federal Communication Commission’s classification of the internet as “information” rather than “telecommunication” created a gray area for government oversight and accountability.
From a business perspective, high bandwidth “peer to peer” software may be blocked, slowed or have additional charges added in the future.  Peer to peer software includes some entertainment specific items like certain games, but file sharing, instant messaging, streaming media, online currency exchanges and even some voice over IP applications could result in additional future user fees in the future.  Removing “bandwidth hogs” from the system could, in theory, prevent bottle necks and increase average speeds for individuals not utilizing peer to peer software.

Many on-line businesses start small and grow organically over time.  Changes from a Net Neutral system to a Tiered system may create a tiered internet.  Web operators, application managers and device managers that want to become part of the “fast” internet may have extra fees associated with their content.  Businesses that choose a lower tier could have consumers connect to their web presence at slower speeds.  Slower speeds would alter website accessibility and place small businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
Conduit or “pipeline” tiered legislative discussions aren’t new, but the change in focus from the individual perspective to business advocacy is a relatively recent development.  Even in the state of Kansas, bills have been presented that would impact a communities access to broadband service.  Click HERE for Senate Bill 304.
For more information on Net Neutrality, please click the following links:
As advocates for small businesses, we must be conscious about barriers to market entry for smaller businesses.  The more difficult and more expensive it is for a small business to enter a market, the more difficult it is to make a profit and grow.  Some barriers to entry include large established businesses that saturate a market, expensive equipment, extensive licensing requirements and other overhead costs.  The commercial internet has always been a tool that facilitates innovation, but small businesses may have trouble competing with larger companies in a non-neutral environment.  Additional fees for small businesses used to competing on the basis of ingenuity could stifle Mom and Pop web choices in the future.

Obviously, recent changes in Net Neutrality haven’t resulted in wholesale changes to the internet, but this is a potential issue that businesses may have to deal with in the future.  If your business communicates to customers through the web, or you utilize web based services that a tiered internet could impact, we encourage you to educate yourself on the issue of Net Neutrality.
See this article and much more in this week’s Emporia Main Street E-newsletter!