Parrot’s Disco-Pro AG

Will Trashing Net Neutrality Kill Your Customer Base?

May 19, 2017
The FCC has voted to start eliminating net neutrality rules. Can it affect your customer base?

Following a 2-1 vote, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving forward with plans to eliminate net neutrality rules. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes removal of Title II classification of home and internet service providers (ISP) as common carriers under the Communications Act. Chairman Ajit Pai suggests that throttling of internet connections will somehow help Internet users.

Most discussions about net neutrality address it from the point of view of the user or the ISP. We have talked about it here with respect to Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

For this round of the discussion, I wanted to talk about the perspective of an IoT company and its customer base. This is actually wider than just a company that intends to sell IoT devices, since many services are now being distributed or managed through IoT devices like Amazon’s Echo. Most of these will not fare well if the bandwidth or reliability of the connection are insufficient.

For example, Parrot’s Disco-Pro AG is a drone package (see figure) designed for agricultural use. Farmers can program the drone to fly over a field. The downward-looking sensors capture information that must be uploaded to the cloud for analysis, and the results are presented to the farmer to help improve crop yields. This doesn’t work if there is limited or nonexistent internet support. Farms are not known as places where high-speed internet is abundantly available, and prioritizing connections would not help if other services like streaming movies took precedence.

Part of the problem is that ISPs want to charge for both ends of the connection based on different criteria. With net neutrality, sufficient bandwidth is the issue. Without it, other factors come into play. It isn’t just a matter of having more bandwidth, but rather, more bandwidth of the right type, taking into account how it is affected by other connections. A company may have enough bandwidth to their servers, but this makes little difference if their customer base does not have sufficient, reliable connections at their end. Most companies can move their servers to locations, such as in the cloud, where very-high-speed connections are available, but that isn’t the case for their customers.

Companies that target a wide range of customers can often ignore these issues, since a large percentage of their customer base will have high-speed connections sufficient for a product’s needs (in most cases). They can simply ignore the problems associated with the minority and make a profit. Companies that have a majority of customers where there are issues of connectivity and bandwidth could have major problems, making some products impractical. These companies will have to contend with helping customers debug connection and bandwidth problems that may be related to throttling or uneven support for protocols ranging from VoIP connections to VPNs.

Changing the rules of the internet probably won’t put a lot of companies out of business, but the uneven playing field may make it more difficult for them to make money.

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