On June 11, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) dismantled rules regulating the businesses that connect consumers to the internet. One of the biggest questions being asked within the vaping industry right now is this: How will the FCC’s net neutrality regulation rollback affect us?
The short answer is we have no idea. Many reports about the potential effects are speculative, worst-case scenarios and fears of what might happen. But that’s not a reason to disregard the concerns, it’s more important than ever to be aware of what might happen.
A large part of the vaping industry is made up of small and medium sized businesses. Without net neutrality, it is conceivable that large corporations with deep pockets (such as Big Tobacco) could convince internet service providers (ISPs) to make it more difficult for small businesses to get internet access. This would create an uneven playing field and enable corporations to dictate what you can see, and how fast you can see it.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the idea that internet traffic should be treated equally no matter what you’re using the internet for, whether you’re reading news, posting on social media, or streaming movies net neutrality ensured that Internet Service Providers (ISP) couldn’t favor certain content over others or prevent you from accessing sites based on ideological or political beliefs. It also ensured that ISPs could not force individuals or businesses to pay more to access the Internet at high speeds.
How? ISPs could adjust website delivery speeds to different types of customers and charge increased fees for those customers to regain the speeds they’ve been getting in the past. Critics of the FCC’s decision say that ISPs could create “fast lanes” for companies willing to pay more or put caps and blocks in place to prevent customers from accessing certain sites that require additional fees to unlock.
Proponents would argue that if an ISP throttled data and bandwidth while charging extra fees to remove the blocks, customers would simply take their business to another company. A good idea in theory but anyone who has moved to a new home or apartment knows how limited ISP options can often be in certain areas, and businesses face the same potential issues if they are limited to a single ISP due to their geographical location.
The importance of the open flow of data goes both ways for a small business. Being able to access the internet is vital, but even more vital is that their customers are able to access their site and data. If customers experience delays in loading times for a website, chances are high they may turn elsewhere. One of two people expect a page to load in less than two seconds, and 53% of abandoned website visits are mobile sites that take more than three second to load, according to a study by Google subsidiary DoubleClick.
So, with all that in mind, consider this question: What happens if “Big Tobacco” decides to leverage its influence on ISPs to help hinder vape companies’ ability to do business?
Does that sound paranoid, possibly borderline Orwellian? To most ears, probably so. Net neutrality was designed to ensure that internet service providers enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. With it gone, concerns about what could occur are warranted.
Again, it’s important to remember this is speculative, but discussion and consideration of these potential issues are important. Small and medium sized businesses are often experts at being nimble and adapting to an ever-changing market, but losing their access to the e-commerce world would cripple many. No one wins - not business or customers - if people can’t meet for the open exchange of money for good and services.
Posted by Crystal Means on Jul 13th 2018