How To Win The War On Net Neutrality

Businesses will suffer along with consumers if net neutrality isn't preserved. Here's what you can do to ensure your traffic doesn't get sideswiped into a slow lane.

Curtis Peterson

November 5, 2014

4 Min Read
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Nearly a decade after the issue of net neutrality was first raised with the Federal Communications Commission, the debate remains centered on what it means for consumers. Ironically, most consumers seemingly couldn't care less.

As the FCC tries to gain control of the issue and ensure a level playing field that would prevent content providers and ISPs from signing sweetheart deals to create "fast lanes" for their traffic, the public has been oddly disengaged. That's surprising, considering that Internet access has become a vital component of modern life, more akin to a utility like electricity, landline telephone, and water service than a luxury. Even as far back as 1998, many of us considered Internet access a necessity.

The powers that be -- Netflix, Comcast, Time-Warner, and other content and service providers -- are marching forward, still signing peering deals for priority service. But it seems the limitations this would impose, not to mention the privacy issues, haven't fully sunk in yet for consumers. As if the idea of the NSA snooping on your browsing habits wasn't bad enough, these are private companies peeking into your traffic to determine what's high-priority and what's not, how they can monetize that data, and turning the dials on speed based on the highest bidder. Yet public comment on the issue has slowed significantly, indicating that most of us have lost interest, at least at the consumer level.

The problem is that ensuring a level playing field for consumer traffic is only one part of the issue. Businesses will also suffer without some sort of "Open Internet" protection. From mom-and-pop e-commerce operations and startups to midsized corporations, those that cannot afford to pay for their own piece of the fast lane pie will see their traffic get sideswiped into the slow lane by priority traffic from companies with deeper pockets. Not to mention, there's only so much bandwidth available. What happens when the top-tier traffic generators buy up all the bandwidth?

In addition to web browsing and email, reliable telephone service may be at stake. As VoIP and cloud-based communication platforms gain momentum, they're becoming a vital link that businesses rely on to communicate with their customers. VoIP traffic volume alone is already more than 150 petabytes per month and is expected to hit nearly 160 petabytes by 2016. If all the businesses relying on VoIP suddenly hit a data speed bump, business could slow to a crawl quickly. It's a double whammy: Access to either your website or online store and your phone service could be in jeopardy.

In the face of this kind of multi-channel threat, what can you as a business do to make sure your traffic gets through? Here are three steps to take.

  1. Make some noise. Start by getting engaged in the issue from a business perspective. Call or write your elected representatives and the FCC, and work with industry organizations to raise awareness of the risk that a pay-for-play model poses to businesses of all kinds, in addition to consumers.

  2. Ask for net neutrality addendums in your ISP agreements. Negotiate for a level playing field as part of your contract with your service provider to ensure that it won't sell your share of bandwidth out from under you to the highest bidder.

  3. Insist that your ISP disclose traffic favoritism. Work with your local regulatory community, public service commissions, or the attorney general in your state to push for transparency that would require ISPs to reveal who's paying for priority treatment.

As business owners, managers, and invested employees, we must support reasonable oversight on net neutrality, not only for our own personal accessibility, but also for our livelihood and continued economic survival. The last thing we need is for yet another government agency to write 5,000 rules that are impossible to enforce and leave open twice as many loopholes. In fact, the original intent behind the FCC's Open Internet Order was merely to require that ISPs either remain neutral or disclose priority deals -- that's all.

Of course, now that the K Street crew, investors, and other high-powered entities with big stakes on the line have gotten involved, things are getting complicated. We've already seen several merger deals that almost seem predicated on the failure of Open Internet regulation.

As just one person or one business, you might think fighting against these "Goliaths" is overwhelming or impossible. But imagine the difference it would make if the roughly 245 million "Davids" who use the Internet every day banded together. Ironically, it can be as simple as sending an email.

About the Author(s)

Curtis Peterson

Vice President of Operations, RingCentralCurtis Peterson has more than 20 years of experience managing information technology and carrier-scale data and packet voice communication networks. At companies ranging in size from startups to Fortune 500 firms, Curtis has managed teams responsible for engineering, project management, operations, data security, network security, data center, Carrier Operations, and Internet backbone design and operation. He has built world-class teams that can develop highly scalable networks whiledirecting systems with increasing compliance and security requirements in heavily regulated industries.Curtis has been a pioneer in VoIP services in the business communications space and has been developing, launching, and operating Class 4 VoIP and customer-facing hosted PBX systems since 2002. Currently, he serves as the VP of operations at RingCentral, a cloud communications platform for businesses in the US, Canada, and UK. He lives in Half Moon Bay, Calif. with his wife and two children.

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