Getty Images Today is “Go Slow” day across the Internet — a call to action led by reddit and Pornhub in response to a judicial ruling that struck down Federal Communications Commission rules requiring broadband providers treat all websites equally — the foundation of what’s called net neutrality.
Dozens of websites — including Etsy, Kickstarter, Foursquare, WordPress, Vimeo, Mozilla, Imgur, Meetup, Cheezburger, Namecheap, Bittorrent, Gandi.net, StartPage, BoingBoing and Dwolla —
are participating in the Fight for the Future campaign, hoping to spark a flood of public comments on the FCC’s net neutrality proposal. “Sites participating in the slowdown will display prominent messages that include an infinitely-spinning ‘site loading’ icon — or the so-called ‘spinning wheel of death’ — to symbolize what surfing the web could be like without net neutrality,” a news release on fightforthefuture.org says. “These alerts will direct the sites’ users to call and/or email policymakers in support of net neutrality.”
This is hardly the first attempt to create a groundswell of opposition about plans that would hobble the Internet. Proposals like the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act and Stop Online Piracy Act galvanized the Internet to fight back as well. (SOPA may be back.) In any event, a person unfamiliar with how the measures will effect them can look at hypothetical scenarios from what others call a fake Internet service provider, but they don’t do the problem justice. To understand the true impact of net neutrality’s imminent demise, consider its impact on business.
If net neutrality dies, the Internet will become home to fast lanes; Internet providers will be able to charge premiums to customers that want to ensure that visitors to their sites, and users of their services, will be getting access with optimal speeds.
For big, established players, paying those premiums will be manageable, if not pleasant. (We’re looking at you, Netflix.) But small businesses and online startups will likely find themselves in a tough predicament. Without a high-functioning website accessible at top speed via the fast lane, it will be much harder for such businesses to grow. (Picture a startup that relies heavily on streaming video or some other bandwidth-heavy use, and imagine it trying to get traction while hobbled by slow upload speeds.)
Without that ease of access and unfettered growth, these companies will likely struggle, and hire fewer new employees, potentially stunting U.S. job growth. Even getting to the front of Google will be tougher, as Google has been factoring page speed into its rankings since 2010.
As Copyblogger’s Sonia Simone explained, “Imagine if McDonald’s were able to deliver TV ads at normal speed, but TV ads for your great neighborhood local diner were slow and garbled, with five-minute “content loading” bars before you saw them.” If that scenario plays out, delays will send customers elsewhere, since Internet users have notoriously short attention spans.
All those sites listed above, the ones backing the Fight for the Future campaign, were able to build themselves into household names thanks to a level playing field. Without one, the next great thing may never happen at all.
It’s not the big companies you already like online that will suffer the most; it’s the little ones you don’t know about yet — and the people who won’t get jobs at them.
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