Real estate agents may have more invested in the network neutrality debate than they think. In an industry heavily dependent on Internet access, even a slight change in the rules of access could cause most professionals to re-think their business models. Agents and brokers who don’t enjoy the pervasivity of the Internet could find themselves in favor of a tiered network (non-neutral network), while many other professionals are likely to emerge as vocal opponents of the trend.
The concept of network neutrality has been largely defined by companies and organizations who want to preserve it. The coalition includes such unlikely allies as the Google and Microsoft corporations, as well as big names like eBay, Intel, and Amazon.com. Other key members of the network neutrality coalition include most democratic politicians, FCC Commissioners, and World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee. Many major newspapers, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle have also backed network neutrality efforts. With all this support behind it, network neutrality is getting attention, and will likely remain at the forefront of American public policy debates until it is resolved, one way or the other.
Network neutrality has the potential to affect all aspects of the Internet, and dramatically shift the balance of power – exactly why Google and Microsoft are two of its biggest supporters. The concept aims to preserve an “open and free” Internet, by preventing large telephone and cable companies from having any preference about the type of content is delivered over their networks. In short, the telephone and cable companies want to charge a premium for web sites that load faster, a move opponents claim would essentially turn the Internet into a toll highway.
Some supporters of network neutrality claim the shift is already happening, and are urging government to pass regulations to stop the Internet from slipping further into a fee for service model, similar to the cable television industry. In 2007 Comcast Corp, the nation’s second largest Internet service provider, was accused of stifling communications over the Internet after many of its subscribers reported slow connection speeds. Comcast later confirmed the accusations, saying that placing bandwidth limits on file sharing users of its network was a justifiable way to keep web traffic flowing for everyone.
Internet service providers argue that network neutrality may limit the development of advanced services, and continue to allow the Internet’s most harmful content, such as viruses, spam, and worms to continue spreading unchecked. For real estate professionals, the question becomes how a tiered network might affect the ability to provide content. Small real estate companies may lose the ability to provide content quickly, and large ones may find themselves pressured to service more markets.
Real estate professionals who want to maintain an online presence should work to understand both sides of the network neutrality debate, so they can be ready with a business plan when the issue is decided.