If you’re reading this article right now, chances are you have Internet access at your home or work. If you have Internet access, there’s about a 98% chance you’ve heard something about how the FCC plans to kill Net Neutrality before the end of 2017.
And if you haven’t, well, here’s the rundown, why you should care, and what you can do.
What the Heck is Net Neutrality?
I’m going to dive into this one at a high level, so I won’t define Title II or detail the history of the fight for net neutrality or talk about how supremely punchable Ajit Pai’s face is.
You can read more of the policy and political details at Free Press’s website. They’re professionals at understanding and explaining this stuff.
Instead, I’ve adapted this fantastic reddit comment to briefly summarize net neutrality and what’s at stake:
Imagine you’re at your local library. The library’s gone to a paid model, and you have to pay for your library card now, regardless of how much you use it. They’ve also instituted a new policy where you pay a fee to rent books in addition to your library card subscription.
The librarian helps you navigate the Dewey decimal system and card catalog, but when you approach the checkout desk, you notice he rings some books up for different prices than others. You ask why, thinking perhaps it’s based on how old the book is or how long it is. The librarian scoffs.
“No, of course it’s not about how many pages there are. I get to set the prices. Nothing stopping me. You can read this book that aligns with my political and ideological leanings for $5, or this book I authored you can have for free. But I don’t want you reading these other books, so they’re $20 each.”
Unfortunately, you only brought $15 with you, so you can’t get the books you want and end up with some of the cheaper books and a pile of the free ones. The entire drive home, you’re just angry that you have to pay to borrow books now when you never did before. You think about going to the other library in the neighboring town, but then you realize that you have to live in that town, otherwise you’re not allowed to check out books from its library. There’s no guarantee that other library won’t charge you whatever they want for books anyway.
So mostly you just feel sad. And mad. And powerless.
That’s why we need Net Neutrality
There’s no guarantee that Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and those other big companies will make the internet pay-to-play in the absence of net neutrality. But let’s look at the past.
Okay, yeah, we’d have to fools to think they won’t take their freedom and run with it in ways we can’t even imagine yet. For a real world example of our horrific Net Neutrality-less future, you only have to look to Portugal.
Why should you care about Net Neutrality?
Any person who likes the Internet should care, obviously. But for small business owners, Net Neutrality is about more than where we get our memes and cat videos. It’s about our livelihood.
Your pockets aren’t as deep as your national competitors
Right now, you have to pay for your website. You register a domain name so people know where to find you and pay a hosting company so there’s something for your customers to see when they get there.
What if you also had to pay Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, or any number of other big ISPs for the privilege of being included in their internet package?
How much do you have in your budget? Enough to get on the “Local Business” plan so at least people in your town can find you? Enough for the statewide plan? The pile of money it will take to be included for everyone in the country?
How much do money you think Wal-Mart, Applebee’s, or any other national brand your business competes with has?
Maybe those sites will just get a “fast lane” and your site will load more slowly. That’s not such a big deal, right? Except that 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
You rely on Google
Google is a strong proponent of Net Neutrality, and it’s easy to see why. In a world where businesses pay more just for the privilege of being accessible to consumers, and consumers pay for packages of sites like cable TV channels, the web’s favorite phone book has no place.
Right now, your traffic probably goes something like this:
- Jim needs a plumber, so he googles “Amherst plumbers”
- You come up on the first page of Google, because you’ve worked with someone to make a fantastic SEO-friendly website and have been diligent about blogging
- Jim checks out your site, reads some reviews on Yelp or Google, and checks out your Facebook page. He likes what he sees, so he gives you a call.
And here’s what it could look like without Net Neutrality:
- Jim need a plumber, so he goes to his Comcast Certified Businesses directory, which he gets free with his Comcast internet plan. Jim doesn’t have Google in his Internet plan, since it costs an extra $50/month and mostly just returns sites that aren’t part of his plan anyway.
- You’ve thought ahead and paid Comcast to get on their list, and Jim eventually stumbles across your name in the list of dozens of other plumbers. You’re not on the “preferred” list, but Jim didn’t like that company last time he hired them and he suspects they just paid to get on that list (They did. It was $1,000/year. You bought new equipment instead).
- Jim clicks on your name to look at your website, but it’s not on the Comcast statewide access plan, and Jim lives a town over from you, so he just gets a message that your site isn’t available on his plan. He doesn’t have a lot of money, so he doesn’t have the social media package or the local business reviews package, so he can’t find your other listings.
- Jim decides to just go with the “preferred” company again because it’s easier than trying to hunt down your contact information.
Your free and low-cost web apps are about get to a lot more expensive
From GMail and Google Docs to Freshbooks and Facebook to Canva and Calendly, you probably use a lot of free or inexpensive web apps in your business.
If those companies suddenly have to pay to get to you, they’re going to need to raise their rates. And if you need to pay extra to get them in an internet package, your expenses will go up there too. The companies that don’t pay will disappear, because no one wants to use a slow web app.
If it sounds like overturning Net Neutrality is just a chance for the big ISPs to grab some extra money from consumers and businesses alike, congratulations, you’ve been following along. It’s no coincidence Ajit Pai used to work for Verizon.
What You Can Do to Help Save Net Neutrality
In the face of policy overhauls, it’s difficult not to feel powerless. We’ve been fighting this fight for years now, and I don’t blame you if you’re tired of hearing about it.
If you’ve gotten this far, you know it’s worth overcoming those feelings and taking action.
Our past victories for Net Neutrality were only possible because millions of internet users mobilized to make ourselves heard. We can’t save Net Neutrality alone, but we can do it together.
I’m going to make this super easy for you. Go to Battle For the Net’s site and enter your phone number. You’ll get a call from the system, a short script you can use if you’d like, and then all you have to do is enter your zip code and you’ll be connected with the most important decision maker who represents you.
Look, I know you spend enough time on social media for your business already. Take two seconds away from the #hustle tag on Instagram and your business development Facebook group. Tweeting your representatives is shockingly effective, so shoot 140 characters their way.
Let the robots do the work for you
Because DC is always a few decades behind, faxing is one of the best ways to get their attention. In fact, lots of offices only take meeting requests and other official requests via fax. Making their dinosaur of a fax machine spit out a piece of paper is one of the best ways to get your representative’s attention.
But you don’t have to bust out a fax machine of your own.
Someone amazing built us a robot to make contacting our representatives easier. You can start a conversation with Resistbot by texting RESIST to 50409 or just starting a Facebook message with it.
I tried it out, and it’s basically magic. You say hello and give it your address, and it gives you a list of your elected officials. You tell it which one you want to contact, type your message, and tell it to send. Then it sends you a picture of your letter before it faxes it away. It even signs the letter for you. Magic.
Put your website to work
You already put your website to work for your business. For a few weeks, replace your usual lead generation tool with a pop-up about Net Neutrality to help get the word out to your visitors.
This one sounds difficult, but is actually really easy to set up. Here’s how I did it:
- Install and activate the WordPress Insert Headers and Footers plugin (you may recognize this plugin from my 5 Tips for Successful Facebook Ads post. It’s super useful and versatile).
- From the dashboard, go to Settings > Insert Headers and Footers
- Copy and paste the following code into the Header box:
<script src="https://widget.battleforthenet.com/widget.js" async></script>
- Click Save.
You can also get fancy and customize it. Check out this page for some additional options.
Get your network involved
As a savvy entreprenuer, I know you have a strong network of other local business owners. Let them know what’s going on, what’s at stake, and how they can help.
Even better, go to a meeting with your representative together. Check here for scheduled events near you. If you don’t see something scheduled near you, take initiative and book it yourself. Free Press has a great guide to booking a meeting with your Congress members.
As a local business owner, your voice means a lot to your elected officials. Be heard together.
Be A Local Hero. Help Save Net Neutrality.
We all have skin in the game on this one. Do you have other creative ideas for getting involved? Questions about how else you can help? Comment below!