Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 1, 2017

Net neutrality rollback will hurt small businesses

While deregulation might sound appealing and stir hopes that it will spur economic growth, one item that’s on the way to passing might spell the end of your local mom and pop real estate office.

Last week, U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai released a plan to repeal the so-called “net neutrality” regulations, which might sound like gibberish to you but is a scary prospect for small real estate offices locally and across the country.

Pai’s plan would dismantle the 2-year-old Open Internet Order, which prohibits internet providers from blocking or slowing down websites, or charging higher fees for certain websites and bundling services.

“Today, we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the Internet,” said Pai, a President Obama appointee to the FCC who voted against the Open Internet Order in 2015. (President Trump has elevated him to chairman of the agency.) The repeal, which is likely to be approved in December, would negate a ruling declaring broadband internet as an essential utility.

Because the internet is currently an essential utility, companies that deliver online access, such as Comcast or Charter (known as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, much like phone service and electricity providers) must be “just and reasonable” when charging consumers.

If this proposal passes and internet providers are suddenly exempted from this provision, they could technically begin charging internet users more to access certain websites such as Netflix, Google or, more likely, smaller websites that don’t see as high a demand such as a local real estate brokerage website.

Providers could also “throttle” consumer access to certain websites outside their bundles, making them load slower than other privileged websites.

While rapidly approaching reality, this is not a new item on Washington’s agenda.

The National Association of Realtors sent a letter to the FCC in July urging Pai to reconsider his motion to repeal the Open Internet Order. The NAR recently reaffirmed its opposition, accusing the agency of stacking the deck against smaller companies in favor of corporations.

“Technology is an increasingly important part of the way our membership delivers its services, whether through streaming video, drone technology, or other applications,” NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall said in a statement. “We remain concerned that a rollback of net neutrality rules could lead to blocking, throttling, discriminating against internet traffic or even ‘paid prioritization’ arrangements that put small mom-and-pop businesses at a disadvantage in the marketplace. We will continue working with the FCC to share these concerns and ensure a fair and open internet where everyone can succeed.”

The proposal, which would shift power from the FCC to large companies like AT&T and Comcast, is expected to pass on Dec. 14, when the agency’s commission meets next. The commission, which is comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats, is expected to vote largely along party lines, with the Republicans supporting Pai’s plans.

As you contemplate the far-reaching results beyond local real estate brokers, you might wish to join the NAR and express your concerns about this change to your U.S. senators.

Do not delay, as this is expected to pass before the end of the year.