Why the US Scrapping Network Neutrality is an International Concern

With the potential implications of the US scrapping network neutrality, we look at why the issue goes far beyond the US borders.

With the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) being scheduled to hold a vote later on this month scrap network neutrality, many wide ranging concerns have been voiced on the implications within the United States. Concerns include the end of an open Internet and the damaging repercussion’s of ISPs favouring their own services over their competitors.

While these are perfectly valid concerns, there is another area of concern that is talked about less. This may be thanks to, in part, because of the world living in a time of heightened xenophobia. Still, it is something worth discussing. That is, what are the implications of the US scrapping network neutrality in the international community? Assuming US ISPs will begin throttling, or worse, outright blocking websites, the situation can prove to be very concerning.

The Internet Knows No Borders

To better understand things, we need to discuss something very basic and fundamental about the Internet itself. That is, the Internet knows no physical border when operating normally. Yes, there are physical locations of servers and Internet backbones, but once you know everything is interconnected, whether a website is located in the US or Britain is pretty meaningless to the average user. All the average user knows is that they type in an address or search for something on Google and they end up on a particular website. Besides trivial latency, it means very little so long as the page in question is in English.

This is a fairly unique property of the Internet. You could be reading text from a server located in Europe or watching a video produced in Africa. It doesn’t matter because what you get is a merely a click or two away.

For people who produce content, this is huge. You can be located anywhere in the world. You don’t have to get high power lawyers to negotiate whether or not your content is broadcast in another jurisdiction. All you really need is an ability to produce something people want and an Internet connection. Whether or not you need a server or to use a service is another question. Still, the barrier to enter into a given market place is extremely low.

As such, being concerned about visiting an American website or an Australian website is a pretty silly. What does it matter? Does that website or service have what you as a user want? Then you go to that website or use that service. As far as the average user is concerned, International borders are generally meaningless in an Internet environment.

Why Killing Network Neutrality is Bad for American Websites and Services

Probably the most obvious point to be made is that network neutrality is beneficial to smaller businesses and startups in the US. While larger corporations like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix might be able to skirt around the implications of a non-neutral future, smaller businesses and app developers might not be so lucky.

Depending on whether or not an ISP chooses to block or throttle traffic that isn’t going to designated websites of their choosing, there is likely very real and negative implications. If your service serves American users, you face the prospect of that traffic being cut off. Chances are, a large number of websites and services fit this category in the US.

Now, if US traffic gets cut off to these services, the consequences can be huge. A lot of websites depends on advertisements to generate revenue. Some utilize donations to keep the service running. Others may even rely on purchases, subscriptions, or other forms of micro-transactions.

For people who offer free services in exchange for showing ads, revenue is only going to drop. If a hypothetical website generates $500 per month in advertising revenue through impressions and clicks, then any kind of drop in traffic is likely bad news. If 30% of that traffic comes from the US, then you could expect a roughly 30% drop in revenue. That’s $150 in lost revenue, leaving a mere $350 per month. What’s more is the fact that the owner of that service will have a harder time growing their business because one of the biggest, if not, biggest potential audience is suddenly cut off. When your access to potential new users is cut down, your potential growth will suffer along with it.

For any other forms of revenue sources, the math can be similar. It’s a matter of figuring out which country your revenue is sourced from and asking what that revenue is after you remove American revenue sources. Under a number of circumstances, the potential of suddenly going out of business is very real. This means services begin to disappear just in the US market alone. As long as American traffic exists on your service, your web service will be affected.

US Scrapping Network Neutrality Impacts Services Outside of the Border

It may be easy to think that the US scrapping network neutrality is only an American problem. The simple fact is that it is a global concern. This goes back to the interconnected nature of the Internet touched on above. There are services outside of the US that do depend on US traffic. If an owner does similar math as the US based service by asking what would happen if US traffic is cut off, the math can be done on whether or not their service can stay afloat.

If a non-US service sees traffic from US sources, they they will be impacted by the US scrapping network neutrality. For some services, cutting off US traffic can spell the end of their viability. If that service goes under, then it won’t go unnoticed by US users. As such, services could disappear outside of the US even though they exist outside of the US jurisdiction.

Some of the more business minded observers at this point might advance the case that services need to adapt. If these services can attract more Canadian and British users, then the loss of US traffic won’t be a fatal problem. The problem with this thinking is that it ignores the reality a lot of service owners face and, instead, relies on more hypothetical vague concepts. The only services that can make such a transition are often the larger organizations who might be able to sacrifice the US traffic to begin with. If you are, say, a website owner who makes $8 a month and 75% of that income is thanks to US traffic, the loss can easily push that business off the edge.

That advances the prospect of more services being shut down and raising the barrier of entry that much higher. How many services could shut down as a result of a loss of network neutrality is anyone’s guess at this stage. For a lot of web service owners, discussing money is a hugely sensitive topic and many of them won’t bring it up. The only sure fire way of knowing if that service won’t survive the impending scrapping of network neutrality is to wait and look for announcements of that service going under or the service simply disappearing altogether.

How Will This Impact You?

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. For everyone, the answer will vary. A good way of assessing how you will be impacted from the immediate aftermath is to go through your bookmarks and any site that you look at. Also, go through your smart phone or any device you may have and see what apps or services you use. Is that service backed by a major corporate Interest in the US? If not, do you think they will be impacted by the loss of network neutrality in the US? Is it even possible to use that service if ISPs begin limiting what you can access?

Of course, that is only the beginning of what the implications are. This doesn’t even take into account spillover effects of other businesses shutting down. Services can use other services to operate. Commonly known as Business 2 Business (B2B) interaction. What if something like Patreon or GoFundMe is shut down? It’s not to say that this will happen, but this is being used as an example. Then the service you use that would be impacted by this could also be shut down anyway even if it is somehow not directly impacted by the scrapping of network neutrality. One can refer to this as indirect consequences.

Will the Internet Survive?

Some might brush everything off and say that the Internet will survive. For some, there is a mentality that whatever gets shut down will be replaced by something else because someone sooner or later will step up to the plate.

For one, the loss of network neutrality in the US could be the biggest hit the Internet has ever seen. No one will ever know the scope of the damage this can cause until it is too late and the damage is already happening.

For another, simply relying on the idea that “someone, somewhere will take over and pick up where the last person left off” is the equivalent of burying your head in the sand and hoping the problems go away. What if there’s no one else out there to pick things up where it was left off? It’s little more than a glorified way of leaving something to chance and hoping it works out. There is always that possibility that this luck will run out at some point. It’s never a good idea to simply take something like this for granted forever.

The simple fact is, no one really knows what the implications of all of this are for certain. It is probably extreme to say that the Internet will die. It is also extreme to say that there will not be any fallout because of it either. All we know is that a storm is brewing, and if the storm can be headed off before it makes landfall, everyone will be better off.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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