The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially began rolling back net neutrality laws on June 11, 2018, although deep controversy has surrounded this issue for some time. For instance, the U.S. Senate approved a resolution on May 16 in an attempt to restore the rules. While it was unlikely that the House would pass the measure, the Senate's gesture indicated strong opinions on both sides of the issue.
Net neutrality directs internet service providers (ISPs) to allow equal access to online content, regardless of the content's type or source. Net neutrality rules were established in 2015 under the Obama presidency, the intent of which was to create a level playing field in cyberspace for both small and large companies. That means providers could not favor or block certain products or websites based on online clout or level of brand awareness.
The end of net neutrality could prove challenging for small business owners. ISPs may now be able to block access to particular websites, or throttle the speed at which someone can use a site. Large companies may be able to use their clout online to have a larger presence than smaller competitors.
Online presence is vital for businesses today
Being in business today goes hand-in-hand with having an online presence. In the United States and much of the developing world, vast majorities consider the internet their go-to resource for shopping, information, communication, entertainment, and financial transactions. Having a website allows a business to advertise its purpose and products, sell to national and/or international markets, create relationships with vendors and customers, and work more efficiently.
Net neutrality gave small firms the same opportunity as large ones to get in front of customers. But now with its absence, smaller businesses could be at a disadvantage.
Small business concerns about the end of net neutrality
A Paychex Small Business Survey conducted between January and March 2018 provided a glimpse into business owners’ perceptions about a potentially uneven online marketplace. Specifically, the survey found that:
- 59 percent of small business owners surveyed think repealing net neutrality will mean less traffic to their firms' websites because internet service providers will favor large corporations over theirs.
- 44 percent believe that repealing net neutrality rules will hurt their company website.
- 44 percent are unsure of how the repeal will affect their business.
- 12 percent think the repeal of net neutrality will benefit their business.
How can small business owners improve their online presence?
Even as the net neutrality rules have begun to roll back, it's important that small business owners control what they can control. That means staying focused on:
- Evaluating your business website and ensuring that it's optimized for a quality user experience;
- Maximizing any opportunities for people to interact with your firm, including having a social media presence; and
- Keeping up-to-date on net neutrality developments. Paychex is committed to small business success, and will provide information on this issue as it becomes available.