Many of you have likely been hearing the phrase net neutrality in the news recently. However, with all of the noise – political agendas and friends’ social posts (or both) – it can be difficult to understand what it all means, particularly as it pertains to small businesses.

Below, we’ve provided a brief outline to help you grasp what it means, where it’s headed, and what could happen if net neutrality were to be repealed.

What is Net Neutrality?

In the most laymen sense, net neutrality means that if you have access to the internet, then you have access to the entire internet equally. This has been the way of the internet in recent memory for most. You can go on Google right now, and theoretically have access to every website in existence – although, it would take a few lifetimes to actually browse the nearly 1.3 billion websites and counting.

Let’s dig a little deeper – not only do you have access to all of these sites, but they are all loaded at the same speeds. Net neutrality protects this user experience, as well as ensuring that users are not charged differently by their Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for accessing certain content and websites over others. For example, if you have Comcast as your ISP, you can access a site like Verizon equally as fast and for no additional charges.

Why would someone want to do away with it?

Net neutrality, for the most part, is intended govern the major ISPs, such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc. Naturally, large companies such as these don’t necessarily like to be “regulated.” The way they see it, net neutrality is preventing them from maximizing their profits, because they are required to output every website at the same speed, even competitors.

In a world without net neutrality, ISPs could theoretically offer different priced packages to their customers. For example, AT&T could have a package that charges $29.99/mo. for high-speed access to site such as Facebook, ESPN and CNN. While the same access to YouTube and CBS could be an additional $5.00/mo. This would give ISPs the opportunity to compete on a more detailed level and have the customers determine whom they want to get services through. Bottom line: ISPs would be able to prioritize certain content over others.

Well that doesn’t sound so bad…

In the off chance you’re a company like Facebook, then no, it’s not too serious at all. You can just shell out some extra cash to all of the ISPs to ensure that everyone still has high-speed access to your website. But in reality, small-to-medium-sized businesses could take a hit. With the drastic differences in capital, these businesses will likely notice either slower content speeds on their site (some call this a “slow lane”), a worse overall user experience, or simply struggle with the preferential treatment that larger companies will enjoy in the search rankings.

Yikes…

Yes, things could get a little hairy for a while if it is repealed, but as marketers, we are trained to adapt to things like this. Just like every time Google changes its ranking algorithms, it’s up to us to adjust our tactics and make the necessary adjustments.

What would be the most hairy? If it is repealed, Verizon, who recently acquired Yahoo, could theoretically make its customers use Yahoo as their primary search engine…

So… what should my small business do? Can we prepare for this?

Well, yes and no. On one hand, simply being educated on the subject helps because there will be less surprises should net neutrality get repealed. On the other hand, we sort of have to wait and see how everything plays out. Portugal, who doesn’t have net neutrality, offers what could be a look into our new internet future. In our expert opinion, even if it did get repealed, we feel that everything will level out eventually.

Until then, we will keep a close eye on what happens next week with the vote and will be sure to have a follow-up story.