Fighting for a Free and Open Internet

Major companies are joining in the fight for a fair internet today, dubbed the ‘Day of Action’, to oppose proposed changes to US rules which govern net neutrality.


What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) should grant the consumer equal access to all legal content, regardless of source. Having net neutrality restricts the ability of ISPs to make it easier to connect to sites they favour. Proponents of net neutrality say it’s a matter of fairness because it limits censorship and ensures that large ISPs can’t unfairly obstruct other content providers. Opponents say it amounts to an undue restriction on business and that regulation stifles investment in new technology, noting that the laws surrounding net neutrality are outdated.


What are the net neutrality rules in the UK?

The Body of European Regulators for Electrical Communications (BEREC) published guidelines clarifying how UK companies should treat the data they handle. BEREC has now said only a limited number of services will be able to get special treatment, and that consumers have the right to free access and distribution of information, as well as the content and to use services of their choice, as long as they are not illegal. These guidelines have been welcomed by digital rights experts, stating Europe has set the global standard in the defence of an open, competitive and neutral internet.


Why is the fight is happening now?

In America, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) introduced new regulations under Obama in 2015, but President Trump is a critic, which resulted in the FCC, in May this year, voting to start the process to end the current net neutrality rules. Though it’s a tech-world and political debate, the issue has attracted many people, such as Last Week Tonight host, comedian John Oliver, whose comments on it made the issue of net neutrality go viral.


How can changes to net neutrality affect small businesses?

Though net neutrality would put small businesses and large corporations on a level playing field, offering the same opportunities, changes could mean the equality is taken away. Changes to these laws could lead to corporate bidding for internet data and speed prioritisation that would put small businesses at a disadvantage. If these changes went through, it would force small businesses to pay a large fee to their ISPs simply to get data priority, which they could ultimately not afford to keep paying. This could put a small company out of business because internet traffic is important and, sometimes, their lifeblood for operating. Luckily, in the UK, this is not an issue facing small businesses.


Net neutrality matters to SEO and digital marketing

The higher costs that changes to net neutrality regulations bring could also have a direct effect on SEO, PPC and content. Smaller companies and websites, who have done a PPC campaign, created engaging content and targeted top keywords could see their conversion rates plummet; losing money, time and effort. Sites that take longer to load are more likely to have access blocked or slowed down by ISPs, causing them to drop lower on web search rankings, as larger companies can afford to push their content forward.


What is the Day of Action?

The deadline for comments on the FCC’s decision is looming, and tech companies have decided to take co-ordinated action. Companies such as Amazon and Netflix will join more than 170 organisations today to “slow down” their services to protest the proposed change. The Day of Action is an attempt to simulate what could potentially happen to popular websites if the net neutrality rules are dropped.

Most importantly, we need to stay informed about what is happening, as it can change without most people even knowing. It is the future of the weird and wonderful internet at stake.

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