What Does the Net Neutrality Appeal Mean for Planners?

You’ve probably seen a lot of headlines today about the repeal of Net Neutrality. So, what’s all the controversy? What comes next? And, the big question is what does this mean for meeting and event planners?

A Little Background

After weeks of controversial buzz and protests, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to overturn internet provider regulations established in 2015. Net Neutrality is the term for such regulations. Basically, these rules ensure that the internet is an equal-opportunity platform for all web users.

For instance, a cable provider may choose which channels it offers but an internet provider can’t pick and choose which websites are accessible. Well, that’s for now. Eliminating Net Neutrality would hand over such power to the biggest telecommunication giants in the United States—Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.

The United States is divided on a lot of issues. Yet, according to a poll from the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, more than 80 percent of voters oppose the FCC’s plan to repeal its Net Neutrality rules.

Fast Lane, Slow Lane

Our in-house tech guru, aka digital producer, Alexandra Pusateri, offered some insight on the topic.

“Net neutrality is a huge, multifaceted issue, but I’ll focus on one part of it: the ‘fast lanes,’” she says. “I think that’s most applicable to the meetings industry. By creating ‘fast lanes,’ smaller-traffic sites—such as a site dedicated to an event or personal portfolios—would be most affected.

“When customers are prioritized on their bandwidth based on how much money they are paying for internet, that means more affluent users would have hindrance-free access to your site, while those who pay less or perhaps have the bare minimum would have a slow, frustrating experience trying to load your site.”

The analogy basically indicates that the internet is like a highway. At this point, under Net Neutrality, everyone is driving along. Inevitably there’s traffic, but it’s not discriminating.

Without Net Neutrality, websites are on off-ramps all the way to the right, for a $10 fee. They’re always slow, because exits are typically on the right side. You have no access to the left-side off-ramps, as these cost extra tolls. These left-side ramps are organizations such as CNN and Fox News.

The $50 lane is in-between these two. Likewise, it has moderate traffic. It’s nice that you can go right or left, yet you still can’t pay enough tolls to make it to the $200 off-ramp. The $200 off-ramp is pretty much the HOV lane, and because of its price, it’s reserved for the elite, such as Netflix. Few vehicles are in this lane. So, they get to zip along the highway and switch lanes across all lanes as they please.

Is such a situation only theoretical? Pusateri explains that it’s more complicated than that.

“Now, this is speculation, because this hasn’t happened in the United States yet,” she says. “However, ISPs such as Comcast have gotten in trouble for coming close to things before. For example, throttling, which is a more basic form of the ‘fast lane’ idea. People are upset because Comcast only cares about its bottom line; it cannot be trusted to ‘do the right thing,’ yet that is what the FCC believes it will do. But court cases over the last decade say otherwise.”

Back to You

So how exactly will this affect meeting and event planners?

There is some question about when the change might occur. Lawsuits from tech companies, states and others are in the works to counter and delay the decision. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a multi-state appeal of the ruling just hours following the vote.  Other states have signed on as well. We’ll keep an eye on how that goes.

The bottom line is that it may be more difficult for small and independent companies to find success on the web.

“Big content distributors like Netflix can afford to pay for their content to be in the fast lane,” Cheryl Leanza, president of media policy consulting agency A Learned Hand, told Refinery29. “But young creators, just starting out, will have another huge barrier between them and their audience. Unless they can pay to be in the Internet’s fast lanes, their content will be harder to see.”

One thing’s for sure: There’s definitely more to come on this one.

You can find more information regarding this decision, on this FreePress site and in this statement by the FCC.