By Robert Freedman, Senior Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
The Federal Communications Commission yesterday issued rules to require all Internet content to be treated the same by the companies that control the flow of Internet data into homes and offices. NAR supports this so-called net neutrality issue to help ensure real estate brokers and others in real estate that make heavy use of the Internet won’t face disruption or changes in their services by Internet service providers (ISPs).
Under the rules, which have been some five years in the making, the ISPs (mainly cable and telephone companies such as Verizon and Comcast) are prohibited from blocking lawful content, applications, services, and the connection of non-harmful devices to the network. The ISPs must also create a level playing field for all providers of content on the Internet. That is to say, they can’t treat the flow of content of one Web site different from the flow of content of another Web site.
That’s not to say ISPs can’t change different rates to consumers based on the amount of bandwidth they consume. They can. If a consumer ties up a lot of bandwidth by, say, downloading a lot of video, the ISPs can charge that person more, because bandwidth is a finite resource. But the ISPs can’t discriminate against content providers (that is, Web sites) based on their type of content. If the ISP has one policy for Web sites that make video available on their site, they have to maintain that policy for other sites that make video available. The user experience must be the same.
The issue doesn’t seem like a real estate matter, but many real estate brokers and sales associates today maintain a big Internet presence. The concern is that ISPs could start picking and choosing who will get super-fast service and who won’t. That could be a problem for a real estate brokerage that streams a lot of video listings. If the ISP were to decide it didn’t want to tie up so much of its bandwidth for that use, and so restricted the data flow for that Web site, but was willing to enter into a deal with another Web site to get preferential treatment of its video offerings, that would pose a problem for the brokerage.
The FCC order, which contains other rules, including some having to do with disclosing information to consumers about the characteristics of their Internet access and how their networks are managed, has its critics, particularly among the ISPs, who are likely to challenge the order in court.
NAR’s position is that the FCC has chosen its approach, and that approach seeks to ensure even treatment for those who increasingly rely on the Internet for their business, so that’s the approach that has received NAR’s support. Background on the issue is detailed in an April 9 post.
More on the issue is available on REALTOR.org.