The advancement of technology, in particular, the growth of the internet and connectivity, has dramatically changed the shape of the world that we live in.
Gone are the days of being bound to an office with specific rules and boardrooms where the air-conditioning doesn’t work. Connectivity allows a person to telecommute to an office or a boardroom meeting should they be unable to attend it.
It also creates a level playing field for companies of different shapes and sizes to compete on a level footing for the same customers. Or does it?
The world of net-neutrality
Those of us who have uncapped internet are all too familiar with throttling, a practice whereby internet service providers (ISP) throttle bandwidth during peak hours or at times when clients are not adhering to their fair usage policies.
While frustrating, the practice of throttling bandwidth has little effect in South Africa, other than it being the proverbial thorn in the side. But in the US, this is big business with significant ramifications.
ISPs are major players in the US market with significant ownership of tech companies. Hulu is partly owned by Comcast. If you are a Comcast customer, and you want to watch a video on say Netflix, preferential bandwidth is given to Hulu to the extent that the same video will be shown at a faster speed than on Netflix.
This dissuades people from using a video broadcast website that is not affiliated with the said ISP. However, this also means that advertisers are being unfairly treated by the preferential treatment.
The US is all about doing business as fairly as possible, and they have a proud reputation regarding this. so it was unsurprising when former President Barack Obama passed net-neutrality laws which prevented ISPs from their throttling ways.
However, as some would say predictably, President Donald Trump looks set to scrap this law. What will this mean for business?
A case for fair business
A recent article on economictimes.indiatimes.com pointed out that data traffic management practices employed by telecom service providers should not allow application-based restrictions and should not discriminate.
The telecom regulatory body had put out a consultation paper on net neutrality in January and had asked for submissions on the kind of traffic management practices that should be allowed. The paper said it was “important to identify core principles of net neutrality for India and the types of practices that might be regarded as being in violation of these core principles”.
“Net Neutrality regulations should ensure that traffic management practices do not impose arbitrary restrictions and discriminatory practices, including blocking, throttling, or altering of specific content, application, or services and should be strictly forbidden and any such actions should be punishable,” R Chandrasekhar, Nasscom president, told ET.
The article goes on to add that Nasscom made a joint submission to the Data Security Council of India. He added that traffic management should not directly or indirectly discriminate based on the data whether on price, the source of data or destination of the data.
“We also think that traffic management systems should be temporary and targeted at solving a problem. It should only take place in times on congestion,” said Chandrasekhar.
If we think of this, it’s only fair right? Net neutrality is the principle that all data on the internet should be treated equally by internet providers. It prevents internet service providers from privileging or punishing different kinds of data usage. It creates a free market system, a system whereby the smaller players keep the bigger players in check.
As discussed in previous articles, Millennials are the customers of today, and their loyalty is fickle at best. They spend considerable time fighting against practices that marginalize smaller companies. And once their loyalty is gone…as the Italian mobsters say…forget about it.
A look into the future
Let’s say that net-neutrality is scrapped. ISPs will be able to charge what they want for preferential treatment at free will.
They will tell you that it is not a big thing, but to quote George Orwell’s Animal Farm: all animals are equal, but some will be more equal than others.
An article on networkworld.com points out what would happen in this world. The new regulations would split the Internet of Things (IoT) industry into the haves and the have-nots. Larger IoT firms would flourish, as they can pay the higher access fees to connect their sensors to the cloud.
Startups that cannot afford the higher fees will struggle to survive. Venture Capital funding to new IoT startups will dry to a trickle. Sales of the carrier’s own IoT services will soar because they didn’t have to pay the higher access fees thereby becoming more equal. This will be the death kneel for smaller companies; the proverbial nail in the coffin.
The news gets worse
The article goes on to paint an even worse picture.
IoT devices would still be able to connect to the network, but they have to be carrier-certified first. The long lead times and high costs for IoT device certification would slow down the rate of innovation. On the plus side, certification has become a lucrative profit center for the carriers.
Health-monitoring applications that produce a high volume of sensor data were the first to suffer. Their popularity declined as sensor readings became less dependable due to higher network latency and increased packet loss. IoT-based predictive maintenance and security monitoring services were the next to fade. In theory, network traffic was still treated fairly by the carriers, but in practice, traffic from profitable applications was treated more fairly.
Can we honestly say we want to live in a world such as this?
No, and it is up to us to fight for our rights as smaller or medium sized businesses before it is too late.