This has been a pivotal week as the issue of “Net Neutrality” has been on everyone’s mind thanks to former Verizon attorney and Trump appointee as the FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai. Mr. Pai has been busy shelving the adoption of the current “Net Neutrality” drafted in 2015 which outlined the fact that no ISP or internet service provider could bar, block, censor or in any way restrict the flow of information that we all count on and frankly expect.
So what is the problem and why does Pai want to remove the collars and restrictions? Well before we get too far into conjecture and speculation let’s look at the facts. There are 4 corporations that account for 76% of the current 94.5 million internet subscribers in the United States, they are; Comcast (NASDAQ- CMCSA Market Cap 182.5B), Charter Communications (NASDAQ – CHTR, Market Cap 81.7B) AT&T (NYSE – T, Market Cap 231.7B) , and Verizon Communications (NYSE-VZ, Market Cap 213.5B). Each of these large organizations has for years complained about the cost associated with maintaining the platforms required to access this incredible tool we call the internet. Each of us are no longer satisfied with just access we need that access at 10 times the speed it was just a few ago and we also require it anywhere and everywhere we happen to be. This has required high speed cables, innovative advancements in technology and lots of man hours to deliver.
Advocates of repealing the official 2015 version of Net Neutrality argue that free access to all without restriction is the bible as it were for how to operate online and none of the big 4 intend to change anything. Those that are very vocal opposing any change to the current net neutrality laws argue that these 4 companies will be able to indiscriminately place their own interests above those of the free market. Competitors, small business, non-profits, contrary political opinions and anyone that can’t pay as much the next guy to get his content found, featured and engaged with may be on the outside looking in and excluded.
I am neither a fortune teller nor an internet prophet, but I only have 1 comment that has historical value in predicting what the future may hold:
FOLLOW THE MONEY!
It appears to be naïve to possibly consider that any of the 4 mentioned major media giants will suddenly take a “good will towards men” approach and allow a business as usual mentality to continue. These are for profit companies, responsible to shareholders and investors; they all create massive amounts of content that the average user is hungry for and consuming at alarming rates. In order to stay ahead of the game they are acquiring other companies aggressively to continue to be able to bundle Internet services, home security, cell phone service, entertainment, and smart home type innovation to the account holder and increase market share. Why would they possibly allow someone else’s content to be found first on their own platform? They fight for market share every day in an open and unrestricted internet; with additional tools at their disposal the boardroom conversations may become very different.
Do I think this will happen right away, NO. With the net neutrality dissolved there will be law suits, regulatory oversight and the 4 main players will probably play off of the fact they are the most lenient with all content, have the most generous consumer offers, are the absolute most fairly and competitively priced, and will always be by the consumers side to deliver what they want, when they want it and in whatever format they prefer.
How about we fast forward 1 year, 3 years or perhaps 5 years. How will the internet look then? Will there be more than 4 main, will Amazon continue their disruptive influence on every industry and also become an ISP? Tough questions that we will only be to wait and hope it all works out.
Regardless every business executive on the planet should begin to plan a diverse digital strategy that includes a contingency if they are not able to get found online or their message blocked or filtered in some fashion.
Let’s face it once nobody is watching there may just possibly be many changes that we will just have to learn to live in the future, with our never ending need for information and expectation to have that information at our fingertips anytime and anyplace we choose driving the competitive landscape from the 4 big guys and anyone else that decides to throw their own hat in the ring.