Networking

8 ways the end of net neutrality may affect IT departments

After the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality rules last year, it's still unclear how businesses could be affected. Here are eight possible outcomes that IT departments should pay attention to.

As TechRepublic's Conner Forrest reported last December, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially voted to repeal net neutrality. However, as writer Brandon Vigliarolo pointed out in a later analysis, it takes time to implement any changes in laws or rules, so it could take a while to see the effects of the repeal on businesses and consumers.

SEE: Net neutrality: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)

After the repeal, ISPs can theoretically charge more money for access to certain sites, or throttle access to unwanted or undesirable locations to discourage usage.

This opens up certain possibilities and paints a grim picture of increased rates and poor quality service, but keep in mind some of these possibilities are more likely than others. Here's what we can reasonably expect, based on my experience as a system and network administrator.

1. Large enterprises won't see much change

Large scale companies (those with 1,000 employees or more) will probably not be affected by the end of net neutrality, at least in terms of machines which access the internet or are accessed by the company ISP (mobile devices might be different, and I'll get to that in a bit).

Most enterprise organizations at this level already possess expensive plans and agreements with their ISPs which include service level agreements (SLAs), quality of service terms (QOS) and the like. In these instances I don't see ISPs seeking to gain additional costs from these types of customers.

SEE: Service level agreement (SLA) policy (Tech Pro Research)

But what about smaller businesses? Are we looking at potential extortion schemes?

2. Protection rackets aren't likely

It's an old cliche in gangster movies; a well-connected local hoodlum wanders into a grocery store and tells the proprietor: "Nice place you got here. Be a shame if something happened to it. Rough neighborhood, this is. Pay me $50 a week and I'll keep your store safe. You don't want to pay, well, who knows what might happen?"

Will ISPs try to do the same, to try to broker pricy SLAs or QOS plans for subscribers in order to guarantee a minimum of a certain rate of bandwidth or reliable access to the internet? I don't believe so. If these organizations are smart they will understand that few customers are going to want to pay more for the same access/bandwidth - nor will they tolerate doing so since they can switch to another provider.

Even in rural areas where the choice of provider can be minimal, public outcry against price gouging is a powerful factor.

Businesses vote with their wallets, which means:

3. You might get better deals with different ISPs

ISPs may start branching out by offering different access packages based on business size, and competition might actually drop your costs if you select an ISP that can give you a better deal. I wouldn't expect this to take place overnight, but definitely foresee such a concept as being on the near horizon.

SEE: How to Choose and Manage Great Tech Partners (ZDNET special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

You may get better discounts shopping elsewhere, but that doesn't necessarily mean some costs won't go up.

4. Business-related communications or access to business-related sites might cost more

I said I didn't foresee protection racket type scams, which operate from a negative perspective ("pay up or else"), but we might well see instances where the use of business-related communications or websites involves a positive new type of package.

Such a deal would be aimed at business entities and intended to be separate from generic consumer use. The marketing involved would be aimed at offering premium service, meaning not just "fast enough" but "faster than everyone else!"

This new type of service would be similar to express passes sold in some amusement parks which can enable you to skip lines or spend less time waiting in them.

This merits a certain amount of consideration based upon what the competition is doing. Do you really want customers getting better response times from their website versus yours?

5. Mobile devices with limited data plans will be affected

Unlike a regular ISP which provides unlimited data, mobile devices with a specific data limit will definitely be affected if net neutrality falls by the wayside. Consumer, as well as business, access packages would very likely be in the works, and have the potential to pose a confusing hodgepodge of details or an a la carte type of selection where you might prioritize Facebook and YouTube usage over other apps and sites, or LinkedIn and company email service over other potential choices.

Carriers would do well to keep things as simple and understandable as possible here to minimize the confusion and steamline service offerings.

6. Free entertainment might become obsolete

With net neutrality behind us, the days of enjoying free audio or videos at the office or over the company VPN might become a thing of the past as well, or at least severely curtailed. If bandwidth becomes a precious resource, squandering it on YouTube videos or streaming audio from a favorite radio station will have to take a backseat to bona fide business related activity.

Logging and monitoring of internet access and implementing your own quality of service rules to throttle such access may be within your best interests in this scenario. In fact, I highly recommend that IT departments implement logging/monitoring across the board to help examine the impact on business and see where action may be needed.

7. Privacy will likely become even more of a concern

ISPs are bound to scrutinize traffic even more intensely since identifying user and company behavior will be key to marketing and operation efforts. This means privacy, already a significant concern for any astute business, will become even more important.

Companies will need to continue to ensure their confidential data remains private - and likely step up their efforts to do so. I also expect this to factor into the scenario mentioned above, in which ISPs might offer secure, advanced communications as part of a service option.

8. Network expansion may occur, increasing availability of access

One traditional argument against net neutrality is that it has impeded investment in networking expansion. It will be interesting to see if this holds true, and if so what economic or business gains will be achieved in the aftermath. This would be the time for opponents of net neutrality to deliver on their aims, as it were.

Also see:

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Image: iStock/designer491

About Scott Matteson

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

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