While most Americans were rushing around in December, grabbing last-minute gifts for the holidays, the Federal Communications Commission voted to drive a stake in the heart of the free and open internet. In a majority vote, the agency killed net neutrality — a policy that has prevented your regional internet service provider from becoming the gatekeeper between you and all the internet has to offer.
In essence, the new FCC rules could clear the way for your ISP — such as Verizon, Comcast or Cablevision — to start charging you extra to use Facebook, extra to ensure your business’ website downloads quickly and extra for all sorts of other information and services you now get for free.
So far, trucker reaction has been mixed.
“Throttling usage, controlling the search results and even blocking sites is not consistent with the internet experience we have all come to expect,” said Tom Benusa, chief information officer at Transport America Inc. “I strongly believe in net neutrality, and I feel that revoking it is not in the best interests of the primary users of the internet.”
Jim Gill, vice president of sales at California Cartage Co., agreed: “I am definitely against FCC turning over the internet to selected players. It needs to remain free and available to everyone — as it has been since inception.”
But David Roush, president of KSM Transport Advisors, was more sanguine.
“Assuming we go forward as declared by the FCC, I do not think there will be a huge impact,” he said. “Businesses, especially trucking businesses, need the internet and fast access thereto — it is the underlying foundation of their interactions with both shippers and drivers.”
“There will be confusion and a plethora of packages and features like there is in the entertainment world,” Roush added. “But companies will do what they need to do and pay what they need to pay to be competitive and viable.”
Not surprisingly, the FCC move also has triggered turmoil in the nation’s capital.
“The FCC’s vote to end net neutrality is an egregious attack on our democracy,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “With this decision, the internet and its free exchange of information as we have come to know it will cease to exist.”
Sanders added: “The end of net neutrality protections means that the internet will be for sale to the highest bidder, instead of everyone having the same access regardless of whether they are rich or poor, a big corporation or small business, a multimedia conglomerate or a small online publication.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai fiercely disagrees, countering that the death of net neutrality will instead usher in a wave of new internet infrastructure development, along with the emergence of more ISPs, which will rise to compete aggressively for customer dollars in numerous regional markets — a win-win for consumers.
“Broadband providers will have stronger incentives to build networks, especially in unserved areas, and to upgrade networks to gigabit speeds and 5G,” Pai wrote in his public statement on the agency’s new stance. “This means there will be more competition among broadband providers.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) added: “The Trump administration’s action to roll back this egregious government overreach into the most innovative space will benefit all users of the internet.”
Noble words, for sure.
But many of those following the FCC’s ruling most closely — including major content providers such as Facebook and Google — fully believe your business could take a major hit on how it gets to advertise on the internet and how it gets to use internet services, thanks to the FCC vote.
Cory Staheli, chief information officer at Trans-System Inc., said smaller carriers in particular could be squeezed if major ISPs find a way to use the new rules to make companies pay a premium to advertise on load boards, or to advertise for new drivers.
“If content is allowed to be up-charged by content type, it would have devastating effects on small carriers and shippers,” Staheli said. “Large shippers and carriers would get their loads and trucks on load boards before the smaller ones — because smaller shippers and carriers may not have the financial resources to pay the premium.”
He added: “Similarly, the game of recruiting drivers would be won by only the deepest pocketed carriers. There are not a lot of good scenarios for small and new players in this scenario. It feels unfair and a little un-American that it’s not a completely level playing field.”
David Anderson, vice president of business development at Black Horse Carriers Inc., also sees more hardship if giant ISPs start adding special fees to view social media or special fees to interact with certain types of websites.
“We’ll be able to pay more for any premium bundled packages if that is how these changes roll out,” Anderson said of Black Horse. “But it may affect our driver recruiting if our candidates have more trouble accessing their social media platforms like Facebook — since social media is our second-highest source of applications and hires — or if it takes longer to download or fill out an application if they decide to not pay for ‘premium’ packages.”
Varying perspectives on the FCC move aside, here’s what is known for certain, based on how the new rules are worded:
• Your ISP — be it Verizon, Comcast, Cablevision or a similar monolithic company — is now the bouncer at your doorway to the internet. Your ISP now completely controls what content you will see, what content you won’t see and how much it charges you for that privilege.
• Your ISP now has the right to charge major content providers — such as Netflix — extra to send movies to you. Should those surcharges start popping up, those extra costs are expected to translate into higher subscription fees.
• Your ISP now has the right to charge you extra to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other social media site. You’ll most likely be paying more to use social media, sooner or later. Plus, social media as an advertising medium could become less attractive for you, given that the major draw of social media among U.S. consumers is that accessing it has been free. In England, for example, where internet regulations are already less consumer-friendly, internet users pay extra to use social media, extra to view videos and extra to exchange messages with their colleagues and friends.
• Your ISP now has the right to make your favorite content disappear. ISPs that also are in the content creation business (and there are a lot of those) can simply choose not to offer competitive content, or make it more expensive.
• Your ISP can now offer faster, more reliable transmissions to your competitors who pay for such premium service — and leave your company to slowly limp along, deliberately engineered to be an also-ran.
• Your ISP has the right to thwart the emergence of cool, new services. The major impetus behind the rise of social media and the easy access to an incredible array of news and entertainment on the internet has been fundamentally founded on its free distribution model.
Under the new FCC rules, there’s a good chance that the story of a kid who started a website in his dorm room and later went on to become the CEO of one of the most influential corporations in human history — a corporation also known as Facebook — will become a rarity, if not just a seemingly fanciful tale from days of yore. Anyone with an incredible internet idea may now have to pay your ISP major coin to see if it will fly on a statewide, national or international level. That pretty much leaves kids in dorm rooms who have great ideas but no cash dead in the water.
• You’re now completely at the mercy of your ISP, given that ISPs are generally a monopoly or duopoly in any given region. While FCC’s Pai has argued that a newly competitive marketplace with the new rules will safeguard consumers from ISPs that get unreasonable about their pricing or policies, reality suggests otherwise. More often than not, consumers looking for reliable, high-speed broadband service generally have only one or two companies from which to choose. And while satellite is often a third choice, satellite suffers from latency issues.
• While a number of consumer watchdog groups, state attorneys general and Democrats in Congress have vowed to vigorously fight the new FCC rules, the hard fact is Congress and the presidency is currently controlled by the Republican Party. And overwhelmingly, Republican leaders currently think the new FCC rules are just ducky.