On Slow Lanes and Thai Food
Tomorrow is the deadline for initial public comment on proposed rules by the FCC that would allow Internet Service Providers to create slow lanes that most web traffic would get stuck in so that a few massive web sites could pay for access to “fast lanes.” So I commented…
In the months since the FCC opened the initial public comment period on the proposed rules that would allow Internet Service Providers to create “fast lanes” for content providers, I have done at least all of the following on the internet: Viewed the menus of and ordered food from multiple small, independently owned restaurants; Looked up my church’s calendar; Contacted teachers from my local kindergarten and pre-school; Looked up the picnic and parade schedule for my local chamber of commerce; Found our pediatrician’s weekend hours of operation; Participated in numerous work-related chat and “web conferencing” sessions; Researched my kids’ summer camp programs; Investigated reports of incoming severe weather; Managed my own personal website, under my own domain, listing my résumé; Discussed a possible reunion of college classmates on a relatively unknown internet forum; Sought out information for swimming lessons for my children; Researched local tree-removal service companies. And all of these activities lead me to ask: where do all of these important, day-to-day activities conducted on the internet fit when it comes to questions of “fast lanes” and what is “commercially reasonable?” While so much of the national Network Neutrality debate has been had within the context of “innovation” and “start ups” looking for a “level playing field,” I dread how a “fast lane” would relegate vital, albeit far less flashy internet services to the “slow lane.” As an American citizen who depends on the internet every day for an array of functions and services, Net Neutrality is vitally important to me. The FCC should use its Title II authority to protect it.
Much of the US citizenry that has remained informed on the matter of Net Neutrality tend to discuss it in terms of a fight between a few major “internet companies” and even fewer massive cable and internet service providers. While that facet of the issue is an important one, it’s hardly the only one. Take, for example, my favorite local Thai restaurant. This 3 table, 12 chair establishment has done a rather remarkable job of managing to keep its own website at the top of web search results despite much larger internet companies competing for the rankings. For now, with Net Neutrality largely in practice, I know that if I click on the link to their own web site, the data sent from their hosting provider to my browser will be treated equally on the “last mile” of my internet connection as data from Yelp. That fact allows this small business a level of independence from the larger web properties that they simply could not have without Net Neutrality. If ISPs were allowed to create “fast lanes” and charge content providers for access to consumers through those lanes, almost certainly this small restaurant could not afford to pay the fees. That, or the restaurant would have to cut into their already small margins to do so. If the restaurant could not pay, any degradation in their own site’s performance due to congestion on the slow-lane could create undue dependence on major web companies for this restaurant. As a result, the restaurant would lose some significant control in its ability to market itself, publish new menus, and inform its customers. The restaurant would largely be at the mercy of these larger web properties for marketing and messaging.
Over 500 websites are created every minute of every day on the internet. And while the vast majority of those sites never have been and never shall be as popular as Google or Facebook, they’re created by millions of people who created them for a reason. Sometimes those reasons can be chalked up to pursuits of leisure. Many other times, those reasons have to do with personal or business-related goals. Any introduction of “fast lanes” that would ultimately benefit the very few properties on the web that could afford to join them will come at the expense of the millions of creators on the web who cannot. This relegates folks creating personal professional portfolios or résumés under their own domains and hosting providers to the slow, narrow leftovers lane. If I’m ever in the job market again, will I need to pay ISPs to get out of the slow lane and have a faster loading personal site than other job seekers in my industry? ”Fast lanes” force any creators of news, literary, video or music content to depend on large web properties in order to get their works in front of the most possible readers, viewers, and listeners. With the creation of “fast lanes” will consumers have to choose a credit union based on whether or not they can conduct personal banking at a reasonable speed or wait for their checks to appear over the congested lane? I’m soon to be in the market for a new minivan. With car dealerships in the state stuck serving up information over slower lanes because they can’t afford the fast ones, would I end up making my vehicle purchasing decisions based on slow loading times of images of car interiors? There are currently dozens, if not hundreds, of online advertising networks in the US. If they aren’t paying for fast-lane access, will their ads be delivered? Will the brands and marketers that use those networks be forced to pay much higher advertising fees to the few networks that survive after being forced to pay for “fast lane” access? For the millions of active, commercial and non-profit properties on the web, how often will questions of “commercial reasonableness” spring up? One of my closest friends began a small, online flower business 2 years ago and has managed to find success because the shopping experience is “simple”, “pleasant,” and “fast.” Many studies have shown that page loading times have serious effects on “shopping cart abandonment” for e-commerce companies Under these proposed rules, would the inevitable slow lane have harmed this flower business to the point of failure? Would any attempts to pay fees to join the fast lane cut the operating margins to the bone? Remember, this isn’t a “content provider.” It’s a small e-commerce company too small for the Amazons of the world to notice, but successful enough to employ about a dozen people in the US. There are many, many more companies online just like it. Would all of their web traffic be forced to crawl over the slow lane?
Network Neutrality may well be an “American innovation issue” but it’s a “Main Street issue” first. So that the citizens and the small and medium-sized businesses of Main Street, USA may continue to find new and useful ways to help themselves via the internet, the FCC should use its Title II authority to protect Network Neutrality. Not only does our future prosperity and innovation rely on Net Neutrality, but our present, every-day lives and businesses depend on it.