Today marks a watershed moment in the fight for Net Neutrality in the United States, as the governing body in charge of regulating communications, the FCC, has announced a full commitment to protecting the Open Internet.
Basically, this means that the government wouldn't allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to throttle the speed of the Internet according to paid speed tiers. These tiers would effectively create several lanes of Internet traffic, with those who pay a premium enjoying a faster speed of information delivery to customers.
The FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, published an op-ed in Wired that explained his professional reasoning for these regulations and committed to maintaining an open internet for the entire nation:
The internet must be fast, fair and open. That is the message I’ve heard from consumers and innovators across this nation. That is the principle that has enabled the internet to become an unprecedented platform for innovation and human expression. And that is the lesson I learned heading a tech startup at the dawn of the internet age. The proposal I present to the commission will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future, for all Americans.
The regulations Wheeler will propose will be
enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband.
My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.
The "go where they want, when they want" is the signal that these regulations truly matter to anyone involved in travel within the United States. As consumers have blanket access to free and open Internet, travel will benefit immensely from added value services built for the new mobile majority.
What does this mean in travel?
The Internet clearly plays a massive role in travel — the majority of the industry would not function without connection to the Internet. And with the recent case of Marriott being fined $600,000 for jamming guest Wi-Fi, there is clearly a lot at stake as far as who owns and controls the pipes that plumb the Internet. There are three key venues that Net Neutrality truly matters in travel: in-destination, hotels, and on airplanes.
There are three key venues that Net Neutrality truly matters in travel: in-destination, hotels, and on airplanes.
Each of these venues has similar consumer implications: imagine one OTA being able to pay for a faster speed both on the Web and via mobile broadband. That would mean a pay-to-play scenario that could cripple emerging players who would not be able to pay for the speed necessary to compete as far as speed of search results and booking completions.
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Website and app speed are also critical during the booking process, as consumers are more likely to drop out of the funnel due to the slower speed.
Google has been factoring in site speed into its rankings for 4 years now, and this continues to be a vital piece of online performance. That means that smaller players are instantly at a disadvantage. That's in addition to the SEM disadvantage from skyrocketing advertising costs driven by big travel brands.
For hotel guests, there is also the chance that hotels could use Internet "fast lanes" to throttle third party content delivery to prioritize revenue-generating in-house services. By working with property network providers, the hotels could leverage a tiered Internet to affect the guest experience by slowing down Netflix, for example.
And while brands like Marriott are trialing guest access to Netflix, it's still unclear how the increase bandwidth use will be paid for.
Overall, Net Neutrality ensures a more even playing field for innovation and guest experience in travel. It provides a better consumer experience, as it rewards the best user experiences over those who can simply pay to be the fastest.
As the Internet expands to be ubiquitous — and more mobile data is pushed through the 'Net rather than cell towers — the implications only grow more serious for all parties in travel.
RELATED: Why the travel industry needs the Web to remain open and neutral | The war on Wi-Fi: Hotels need to stop fighting the future | Marriott won't block personal Wi-Fi after all