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What Does Net Neutrality Mean for Hotels?

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If you are a hotel owner or, for that matter, a customer of any Internet service provider, you need to be aware of a recent court decision.  On January 14, an appeals court judge threw out the premise of net neutrality.  The judge’s decisions could affect hotel owners and travelers in an adverse way in the months and years to come.

What is net neutrality and what does it mean to you?  In a nutshell, net neutrality was an attempt to keep the Internet a fair place to do business.  Under net neutrality, Internet service providers could not charge differently for different types of traffic. Without a “neutral” Internet, your ISP might charge users and content providers differently depending on what type of content is being delivered.

For example, we know that almost 75% of Internet traffic at hotels both large and small results from streaming movies and online video.  Without net neutrality in place, ISPs could decide that access to Netflix or YouTube is a premium feature and should cost you more on your bill.  Alternatively, ISPs might make networking changes internally and throttle your connection for streaming content.  Video is just one example; the same principle applies to higher-bandwidth applications such as Skype. And there’s nothing stopping an ISP from, say, charging extra for more than a certain number of emails.

Now, while the major ISPs will probably charge Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu extra for carrying streaming content (in fact, Netflix has already signed a deal with Comcast to ensure preferential access), such providers have teams of lawyers and coffers of money to fight any such battle.  Therefore, the onus of any extra charges that ISPs decide to add may fall onto us, the end users.

Obviously, this tends to complicate the high-speed Internet solution for hotels.  Hoteliers are already dealing with ever-increasing bandwidth requirements and other consequences of guests bringing more devices and using bandwidth-hungry sites like Netflix. Meanwhile, the bandwidth and connectivity expectations of guests are increasing exponentially, and customers don’t understand why they don’t receive the same amount of bandwidth at a hotel as they do at home.  Now imagine trying to explain to your guests why they need to pay $.25 for each email they send, or why there will be a surcharge if they use streaming content.

If the death of net neutrality does indeed result in ISPs passing on new charges to end users based on the type of content they use, new methods and standards will need to be devised to find a fair way to pay for one hotel guest who is streaming movies vs. a customer who only surfing the web or checking email.  New hardware and software may also need to be developed to collect information about which sites a guest is visiting, how many emails she is sending, or how much bandwidth she is consuming, in order to be able to charge fairly for content usage.

So, is there anything good about the death of net neutrality?  If you ask me, the answer is a resounding “No!” I believe that we should keep things simple and keep the Internet – the entire Internet, regardless of content type – widely accessible.  For now, we can only hope that competition and the free market keep the Internet an open and fair place to play.  The last thing we need is new government regulation or changes to how ISPs bill for the Internet.  But in the wake of net neutrality being struck down, the FCC has already proposed new rules.  I’ll keep you updated as developments occur.

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. Rick Hudson #

    Thanks for the understandable definition of “net neutrality” and the ramifications of its “death.”

    March 5, 2014

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