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Net neutrality ruling requires measured, informed CIO response

Is it the end of the world (wide web) as we know it?

The Federal Communications Commission voted this week to end the net neutrality regulations that required equal treatment for all internet traffic and prohibited internet service providers from blocking websites, throttling bandwidth or charging more for higher-quality service or content.

The FCC’s new net neutrality ruling was met with opposition from members of Congress, advocacy organizations, internet experts and the American public. Many expressed fear the internet will be ruled by the AT&Ts, Comcasts and Verizons of the world. Some are calling the ruling a kind of internet apocalypse.

Sounds scary, right? Well Glenn O’Donnell, VP and research director at Forrester, has some advice for CIOs: “Don’t freak out.”

“This move has been a magnet for political debate by those on both extremes,” O’Donnell wrote in a blog post. “Ignore those people. If you become spellbound by the media circus, your competitors will be busy doing something about it — and beating you. Don’t get despondent and don’t get too overjoyed — just roll up your sleeves and develop a plan to work around the new rules.”

Next steps for CIOs

O’Donnell said that much of the ruling seems to impact consumer services, not large businesses. But most big companies depend on small, remote offices, so leaders at these companies have a vested interest in this ruling — as do those pursuing IoT projects.

In developing a plan in the wake of the net neutrality ruling, CIOs should, according to O’Donnell and a “Quick Take” Forrester report, do the following:

  • Educate yourself on how the various carriers will alter their pricing and what you will get for certain pricing models and bundles.
  • Re-evaluate whether home and remote offices should use consumer-grade internet. In a world of tiered delivery, your provider may throttle the internet service for your home workers.
  • Start talking to your carriers about low-latency needs for your IoT applications. “You’ll need more assurances for time-sensitive use cases like IoT devices and applications,” according to the Forrester report. The research firm expects carriers to offer a variety of plans to support IoT and related operations — but businesses should expect to pay more for better, more refined service level agreements, said O’Donnell.
  • Renew your focus on network engineering. Forrester suggests companies never assume that network performance is guaranteed, unless you engineer it in. O’Donnell does note that business applications and IoT devices that transmit data across private networks aren’t affected by the end of net neutrality, but more of these apps and devices touch the public internet.
  • Don’t expect 5G wireless to save the day. We are still years away from that being a widespread reality,” said O’Donnell.

It’s not the internet apocalypse

While it’s critical for CIOs to understand how these new rules will affect their business and to incorporate the death of net neutrality into their strategies, O’Donnell still believes that telecom giants won’t — or can’t — behave too badly.

“The paranoia about unfettered telecom monopolies is overblown, but not fiction,” O’Donnell said. “Pressure by government watchdogs, industry groups, and new competitors will keep the giants in line.”

R. “Ray” Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research, echoed those thoughts on the net neutrality ruling.

“I don’t think [the internet] will be deregulated. I think that’s overblown hype,” Wang said.

Wang admitted he is a proponent of net neutrality but said he has faith in the Federal Trade Commission, which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said will step in to protect consumers from any nefarious acts that Internet providers might commit in the future.

“The FTC will be regulating the business, which I have more faith in as they are better equipped to do this,” said Wang. “The question is, ‘what policies will the FTC put in place to spur competition on price, and innovation in service?'”

Time will tell what an internet without net neutrality will look like, but that shouldn’t stop IT leaders from fulfilling their most important business need.

“The only thing that matters is that you serve your customers,” O’Donnell wrote. “This impacts your competitors as much as it does you. Those that refocus on network engineering and clever economic models will have the happy customers — and their money!”