FAQ: What does the FCC's net neutrality proposal mean for businesses?

The IT shop is unlikely to be affected, but it never hurts to keep one eye open.

With the FCC planning to vote Thursday on chairman Tom Wheeler's new proposal on net neutrality, pressure groups have stepped up their efforts to mobilize public opinion against the measure, which would allow for ISPs to charge content providers for preferential access.

The issue of net neutrality has been heavily politicized of late, though calling it divisive is probably inaccurate – the opposition to Wheeler’s plan is broad-based, encompassing everything from free speech advocacy groups to titans of the tech industry like Netflix, Amazon and Google.

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Few major players beyond the broadband providers themselves are in favor of the relaxation of open standards, with many fearing raised barriers to entry for small businesses and a further diminution of competition and consumer choice.

These are serious debates, to be sure – even the carriers’ position has received principled support from some quarters - but it’s far from clear whether the issue will have a serious impact on the world of business IT, as opposed to the consumer marketplace.

Will you wind up paying more for broadband services if the FCC’s plans are adopted?

In all likelihood, no. According to IDC director of consumer and small business telecom services Matt Davis, the only possible reasons that businesses would need prioritized last-mile access would be for “extremely heavy videoconferencing usage” or, possibly, “heavy data-usage cloud applications.”

Will the FCC’s proposed regulations have an effect on your network?

Again, probably not. While it’s possible that the changes could affect the type and variety of services available in the long run – particularly if the critics of the policy are to be believed – almost nobody will see direct effects.

What the regulations might do, according to Forrester Research vice president and principal CIO analyst Ted Schadler, is cause infighting between ISPs and network services vendors. This could, potentially, create security or interoperability problems.

Will the measure actually be adopted?

It’s tough to say for sure, but public opinion appears to be trending heavily against it. The momentum is so strongly in their favor, in fact, that net neutrality supporters are pushing for a long-standing goal of theirs – the reclassification of broadband providers as a public utility, subject to the same regulations as the rest of the telecommunications industry. The big carriers, unsurprisingly, hate this idea, but it’s apparently one idea being considered by the FCC.

Why does the FCC want to do this, anyway?

Essentially, because the rules governing net neutrality have never really been formalized. A Federal appeals court, earlier this year, handed Comcast victory in a lawsuit that the telecom giant brought against the FCC’s so-called “Open Internet” rules in 2011, in large part because those rules were an attempt to regulate broadband companies without establishing solid legal groundwork for doing so.

Formal regulations of the type FCC chair Tom Wheeler is proposing would allow the FCC to be a more effective watchdog for the broadband industry, but the inclusion of provisions that would allow an Internet “fast lane” for content providers who pay a little more is precisely the sort of two-tiered system that net neutrality principals are supposed to prevent.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@Nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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