Net Neutrality Rollback Put Consumers, Main Street Businesses on the Defensive in Digital Era

The Federal Communications Commission today announced a rollback of net neutrality rules last week, sparking a swift rebuke from the nation’s 1.3 million REALTORS®.

“The internet as we know it today is a fair and open platform that puts everyone on a level playing field,” said National Association of REALTORS® President Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation REALTOR® from Columbia, Missouri and CEO of RE/MAX Boone Realty. “FCC’s rollback of the Open Internet Order will mean higher costs and slower service for millions of American consumers and businesses. REALTORS® have strong concerns about what that might mean for the way consumers search for homes online and real estate is transacted.”

The FCC’s Open Internet Order went into effect in 2015. The rule required that broadband networks remain free of restrictions on content and platforms, while treating all content that flows through the network equally. What that means is internet service providers aren’t allowed to block, throttle or discriminate against internet traffic, such as streaming video or drone photography, among other applications.

Earlier this year, however, the FCC announced that it would reconsider those rules.

REALTORS® raised concerns with formal comments (link is external) to the agency in July that a rollback of net neutrality rules could raise costs on business owners, like real estate professionals, who make heavy use of technology and online platforms. In particular, NAR noted that paid-prioritization models and other anti-competitive practices could put small businesses at a significant disadvantage. For example, NAR said, larger companies could pay for internet fast lanes that deliver content to consumers faster on some websites than from others.

NAR believes consumers would suffer from downgraded services across the internet in such a scenario. At the same time, small businesses that either couldn’t pay the new fee or couldn’t negotiate such an arrangement for themselves would face a significant competitive disadvantage, losing customers to faster websites.

Mendenhall says that the majority of REALTORS® operate small businesses, with typically no more than two principals, and that NAR will fight for its membership on this issue with the hope that net neutrality rules will be reinstated.

“The last thing small businesses need today is additional costs and competitive disadvantages that put them on the defensive,” Mendenhall said. “This isn’t just an issue for Silicon Valley or large telecommunications shops. This is a main street concern that affects businesses and consumers across the country. We intend to make our voice heard on this important issue.”

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