Net neutrality?

net neutrality
Net neutrality (infographic from historymaniacmegan.com)

The National Association of Realtors has always championed net neutrality as a means of internet fairness for small businesses and consumers.  A recent article for Realtor Magazine (the official magazine of the NAR) by Robert Freedman hits the same talking points of many recent NAR articles and statements (How FCC Plan to End Net Neutrality Hurts You; realtormag.realtor.org; November 21, 2017).  Freedman wrote that a reversal of net neutrality rules would “make it harder for real estate companies, multiple listing services, and property data aggregators to provide their services in a cost-effective way.”

The NAR takes the position, like many net neutrality advocates, that net neutrality is good for business and consumers.  A December 15th NAR press release (nar.realtor) stated:

NAR has actively supported net neutrality for years.  We are concerned that a rollback of net neutrality rules could raise costs on business owners, like real estate professionals, who make heavy use of technology and online platforms. In particular, NAR notes that paid-prioritization models and other anti-competitive practices could put small businesses at a significant disadvantage. For example, NAR said, larger companies could pay for internet fast lanes that deliver content to consumers faster on some websites than from others.

But a recent article for the Foundation of Economic Education by Dr. Kyle Swann (Net Neutrality Isn’t Neutral At All; fee.org; December 14, 2017) lays net neutrality’s real issues.  He argues that the growth and innovation of the internet happened during the twenty years prior to FCC regulation.  Prior to the net neutrality rule, internet service providers (ISP’s) and edge providers’ (internet content providers and platforms we use daily) services were offered “subject to mutual agreement.”  He also points out that the FCC’s “primary function” is to regulate media content, and that the FCC’s Open Internet rules “expressly permit ISPs to block, filter and curate content.”  Rolling back the 2015 net neutrality rule shifts ISP oversight from the FCC back to the FTC.  Swann’s answer to an open internet is to promote ISP competition, giving consumers a choice.

During the net neutrality rule, ISP’s were no longer exclusively accused of censorship, fast tracking content, and promotion for payment.  Some content providers were also accused of similar practices.  Rana Foroohar writing for Financial Times (Why Big Tech wants to keep the net neutral; ft.com; December 17, 2017) calls attention to how the larger content providers (FANG) actually benefited from net neutrality.  Some of these FANGs have seen exponential growth in the last several years.  Foroohar, like Swann and others, expresses her opinion that an application of real internet equality and consistency should be consumer driven.

Contrary to NAR’s point that rolling back the 2015 net neutrality rule will make it more expensive to do business on the internet: the cost of doing business on the internet has already become expensive and cost prohibitive for many Realtors.  Some have argued that the prominent real estate content providers have greatly expanded their market share during net neutrality.  These content providers promote the agents who can afford the service the content providers offer.  Needless to say, this paid arrangement does not guarantee home buyers and sellers a competent, ethical or consumer oriented agent.  And it’s not necessarily cost-effective either, because advertising costs are usually passed on to the buyer or seller in the form of admin fees and higher commissions.

The answer may be, as many argue, is competition.  Not just with ISP’s, but with content providers as well. A truly open internet will allow for innovation and increased competition, allowing the consumer to choose the winners and losers.  Dr. Swann is correct in saying in the article mentioned above, Whatever side of this you’re on, it’s quite probable that the people you’re demonizing want the same things you want.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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