Net neutrality is meant to prevent internet giants like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from wielding their huge networks as weapons to suppress competition from web companies like Netflix, Dropbox, and even sources of news. While those large ISPs account for the vast majority of US internet subscribers, there are thousands of other internet providers out there that don’t have that kind of power. And though they’re small, they’ve played an outsized role in the net neutrality debate.
In April, 22 small cable providers signed a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking for the end of net neutrality, writing that the policy imposed “onerous burdens” on their businesses. FCC chairman Ajit Pai has latched onto this. Since he was named chairman in January, he’s been touting the damage net neutrality could do to regional and “mom and pop” internet providers, and he cited this letter as proof when announcing plans to reverse net neutrality and its classification of internet providers under a legal statute known as Title II.
“Heavy-handed regulations are especially tough on new entrants and small businesses that don’t have the armies of lawyers and compliance officers that large, well-established companies do,” Pai said just one day later. “So if we want to encourage smaller competitors to enter into the broadband marketplace or expand, we must end Title II.”
Quite a few of these smaller internet providers have taken issue with the FCC’s net neutrality rules. This is not just because of the rules’ core tenets — no blocking websites, no throttling internet speeds, no demanding payments for access — which many small providers say they support. Instead, they’re concerned about being forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars proving to the FCC that they’re actually following the rules.
The Verge called eight smaller internet providers to find out whether they’d been impacted by net neutrality, and the answers were mixed. Multiple respondents, when asked if Title II was hurting them, gave an unqualified “no.” Mark Jen, the chief technical officer of a small internet provider in California named Common, which was founded last year by a group of former Square employees, said that complying with net neutrality doesn’t require any work.
“The default configuration of all of the [networking] equipment is to [follow net neutrality],” Jen says. “While net neutrality sounds like rules and regulations, it’s actually just saying everybody has to run stuff in the default mode, which is as fast as possible and great for everybody.”
Rudy Rucker, co-founder of another small wireless internet provider in California, named Monkeybrains, said his company hadn’t encountered any difficulties either. “Maybe there’s something I’m missing,” he said, “but it’s not bogging us down.”