You’ve probably heard the phrase “net neutrality” by now — but do you know how the concept (or its disappearance) could affect your real estate business?
In June, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) joined a coalition of businesses and public interest groups working to preserve rules surrounding the Open Internet, also known as net neutrality. Today, the trade organization filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the rules to replace current net neutrality guidelines as proposed by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Trump in January.
If net neutrality is not preserved, real estate agents and brokers might have to start paying more for their websites to perform as well as they have in the past. “As the business of real estate continues to evolve, a free and open internet is increasingly critical to Realtors,” said NAR President Bill Brown in a statement strongly urging the FCC to preserve net neutrality. “Net neutrality rules prevent internet providers from limiting access to real estate websites or charging those websites extra for the speed they depend on to deliver a high-quality experience online.”
What exactly is net neutrality?
It’s the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) — Comcast, CenturyLink, AT&T and so on — can’t speed up, slow down or block any websites or applications. Per the rules implemented by the Obama administration in 2015, those ISPs must be “neutral” and allow users to access the websites and apps of their choice without making it easier or more difficult to get to one over another.
“Streaming video, Voice over Internet Protocol, mobile applications, drone photography and Internet of Things (IOT) enabled smart devices are commonly used technologies in our businesses today,” wrote NAR in its comments to the FCC. “In the future, new technologies, like virtual reality and telepresence among others, will be available that will no doubt require open Internet access. Simply stated, network access free from discriminatory behavior has become fundamental to our members’ ability to do business in today’s digital economy.”
Right now, agents and brokers with websites are working with a “level playing field” — it might take some work to get on the first page of Google search results, but once you’re there, everyone who sees you can access your website just as easily as they can access amazon.com.
“The Commission’s proposed rules would permit providers of Internet access to negotiate ‘individualized, differentiated arrangements with similarly situated edge providers’ subject merely to a commercial reasonableness standard,” wrote NAR. “As proposed, these rules would radically change the status quo for the Internet and lead to considerable uncertainty, increased costs, and new competitive disadvantages to small and new businesses across the entire economy.”
In other words, if the proposed rules become the new way of doing business, agents and brokers might have to start paying for their websites to load efficiently — among other inconveniences.
Extending net neutrality to wireless services
In 2014, NAR had another request that it wanted the FCC to consider. “NAR believes that it no longer makes sense for the Commission to differentiate between wireless and fixed wireline technologies,” it wrote in previos comments to the Commission.
“Wireless mobile devices must enjoy the same protections from discrimination, blocking and access fees that we urge the Commission to implement for fixed wireline telecommunications services,” it added.
NAR noted in its recent comments that Realtors are on the front lines of mobile technology; it “is critical to their economic success,” NAR said.
“In a study conducted this year, NAR learned that Realtors spend a median 44 percent of their time corresponding with and conducting business for their clients on mobile devices,” the association noted. “Ninety-four percent communicate with clients using a mobile device.”
“As streaming video, virtual tours and other technologies grow in popularity, these concerns will grow as well,” added Brown in his statement.
“Net neutrality means stronger protections for our members and better results for the clients they serve. We’re hopeful the FCC considers these concerns as they examine the rule.”
Last week major tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Netflix protested the proposed changes to net neutrality and urged the public to join them in opposition.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.