RIP Net Neutrality: What This Means for Real Estate
Internet critics are in an uproar due to a recent decision by a federal appeals court that appears to have struck down the FCC’s previous Open Internet Order. The argument was over free and open communication on the web and trying to prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from playing favorites among websites. For instance, awarding faster speeds to sites that pay a special fee. Or, as consumer groups fear, slowing or blocking sites and services that compete with favored affiliates.
I sat down with Tyler Olmsted, our frontend production manager, to discuss what it all means and how this decision will impact the real estate industry.
AZ: Can you please explain the concept of “net neutrality” in more detail?
TO: The concept of net neutrality is that all services on the net are treated equally. For example, a mom and pop shop that’s been selling wood in the local community for 20 years would be treated the same as larger companies like Lowes that sell the same products. This gives healthy competition for small businesses to compete with large scale businesses on the internet.
Another great example of this is Reddit. Reddit is a user-generated site started by a couple of guys out of their basements. It now gets more traffic than CNN or any of the major news outlets. These types of websites (meaning user generated sites) would be less possible when net neutrality is dead.
Net neutrality is important because it creates competition, prevents unfair pricing, promotes innovative ideas and helps drive business. Without it, control of messaging on the internet will be in the hands of larger corporations.
AZ: There has been a lot of talk in the news lately on the court ruling that will allow larger companies to pay internet service providers for faster streaming of video, content and other data to consumers. Can you explain this in more detail?
TO: In 2007, President Obama said one of the best things about the internet is that "there is this incredible equality there” and charging “different rates to different websites” would destroy that principle.
What's happening now, and it started with Netflix, is they've made a deal with ISPs that allows companies to pay more money for more bandwidth. Because they pay more money to the provider, these companies will have a better streaming service than others. The problem with that is you've eliminated competition in that market. So a couple of kids who want to start an internet business out of college no longer have access to that type of exposure.
AZ: How will this change equality on the web and the internet as we know it?
TO: Again, big business rules. Companies that have a lot of money can pay for a faster route to end users, creating a much more tailored narrative on the web.
AZ: Why are internet service providers (ISPs), such as Comcast or Verizon, backing this proposal?
TO: It comes down to money. The reason they're backing this proposal is because it creates a bidding war for them. Take the news outlets for example. If we have a bidding war between CNN and The New York Times who want to get the fastest route to their end users, broadband companies are going to make more money in the end.
The ones who suffer are the end users. The user in the near future may have to start paying more for services from AT&T and Comcast. As companies start paying for faster routes to end users, the ISPs will need to accommodate these demands with more bandwidth. An increase in bandwidth will require an increased cost to AT&T and Comcast, which will very likely lead to an increase in costs for the consumer.
AZ: How will this impact the real estate industry?
TO: While it may not directly impact real estate today, this recent decision could open the floodgates to larger companies gaining more control online in the future. Because of that, equality on the web is at risk. In fact, we’re already experiencing the decline of net neutrality with our online marketing efforts.
For example, companies like Zillow or Trulia who have more profit, aggregated data and users just by sheer numbers than a locally-owned business, typically rank higher on search engines than local brokerages. Why? More people are talking about these brands on social media, linking to these sites, and so on. This is beginning to affect ranking more and more, so well-known brands have an advantage when it comes to leveraging their influence to impact SEO.
If we continue down this path, companies may eventually be able to start paying for more exposure beyond just streaming services. The route for users to find information online may someday soon be in favor of the bigger companies.
AZ: What can we do to address these issues?
TO: That’s a difficult question. Contact your local congressmen and Sign this petition so your voice is heard. This decision is leading to sponsor-based internet; it’s a sad day for the web.
However, I’m still optimistic. Being a real brand, offline and online, will continue to be effective. Your strategy just may change. Don’t be stagnant. Continue innovating and being a resource for your community. Tap into the power of brand awareness - engage with customers who are fans of your brand and turn them into evangelists, both offline and online.