We recently posted an article on our website explaining why net neutrality matters for retail, before the FCC voted to dismantle it on December 14, 2017. Now, in a world where net neutrality does not exist, we are taking a look at what that means for retail. Net neutrality ensures that every website has equal access to the internet. For example, an independent ecommerce site can be reached just as easily as Amazon or another large company’s site. Without net neutrality, big retailers may have an advantage – no one knows for sure at this time. But if so, what exactly will this look like?
Many internet service providers (ISPs) have their own media products. For example, Verizon owns AOL, which owns a few media companies such as TechCrunch and HuffPost. Without net neutrality, the ISPs can make their media sites and products more desirable than others. They can do this by slowing down competitors or blocking their content. In the example above, users who have Verizon internet will have speedy access to news through HuffPost, but perhaps slower loading times for Fox News or The Washington Post.
For retail, this means large retailers that have connections with ISPs could get even more publicity and page visits while independent retailers struggle to retain their customers and remain accessible. The lack of net neutrality also means ISPs can charge companies more money so their content loads faster for users. Big retailers will be able to afford these fees while small retailers could be stuck in the slow lane.
In this scenario, the outlook is uncertain for small companies. However, these are extreme examples of what could happen to the internet as we know it. It is likely that slow and fast lanes will develop as certain businesses can afford higher fees than others. But, we do not know how slow those lanes will be, or how long it will take for ISPs to start that differentiation. We will also have to wait and see how severe ISPs are in regards to blocking and censoring content.
Whether for or against it, 17 states have already filed suit against the FCC for their decision and politicians are working hard to reinstate net neutrality. Whatever your stance on the issue, make sure your voice is being heard in this debate. As independent retailers, it is important to speak up for what you believe in, instead of letting larger corporation have all the say. If you are worried about the future of your business, make sure you let your representatives know.