You may have read something online about Net Neutrality.  Or, your techie friend insisted you submit a comment to the FCC about it.  “The fate of the Internet rests on our speaking out!”, or something along those lines.

What is it, and why am I talking about it on a credit union blog?

Put simply, it’s the principle that all information is treated equally.  And, without it, could mean the end of credit unions.

Net Neutrality has always been a part of the World Wide Web, from its humble beginnings.  Tiny upstarts like Google and Netflix got to where they are today because of net neutrality.  How?  Let’s revisit the early days of Internet Service Providers (ISPs).  They are the companies we pay to get us online.  In the early days, it was done through the screeching modem and a list of phone numbers.  Now, it’s your cable, fiber, or DSL connection.  In the 90s, dial-up was common and there were multiple choices for service.  The precursor to my own company ran on an ISP out of Miami.  They were great; fair pricing, experienced support, and we knew we were supporting a local business.  The web through one ISP was the exact same web as through another.  As a result, you knew that your website would load on any other person’s computer, and at approximately the same speed, no matter who they paid to get online, or where they were located.

Now, most of us use one of just a few mega-companies.  In fact, there’s a good chance you have no actual competition in your market.  Sure, you can choose between cable and U-Verse (AT&T) or FIOS (Verizon), but that’s not really competition, is it?  It’s like going to the market and looking for some fruit.  They might have bales of oranges from one farm.  The only other choice is a display of different oranges.  Both seem overpriced.  If you ask the staff where any other fruits are, they explain that it is illegal to carry them.  But that’s a whole separate story.

Bottom line, to get online (via a wire or your phone), you’re using one of a small list of giant corporations.  You don’t have a choice.  And they want to make more money.

Net Neutrality ensures that every site you click or every video you watch gets the same priority through your ISPs lines.  There are provisions for QoS (Quality of Service) technologies to make live communication work better (like FaceTime, Skype, or watching a live Apple event), but no one gets access to an HOV/express lane at the expense of others.  This is a good thing, as it ensures that everyone is on an even playing field.

Here’s where Net Neutrality becomes life or death for credit unions.

Imagine Net Neutrality is erased and the few mega-corporations controlling our access to the Internet decide to take sides (for profit or ideological pursuits).  Maybe Chase and Bank of America have been extremely loyal supporters of Comcast’s lobbying efforts.  It’s good to have friends.  Well, as a “reward”, Comcast decides to give both these banks priority access to all of Comcast’s customers.  Goodness, do their sites load fast on my iPad!  But I should log in to my credit union as well.  Hmm, it doesn’t seem to be loading.  What’s this?  “To access this and 3,000 other financial institution websites, please subscribe to our Banking and More package for only $5 a month.  FYI: You always have free access to Bank of America and Chase Bank!  Thanks for being a loyal Comcast subscriber.”

Do you think your members will pay to access your site?  Some might, but many will just move their banking relationship to the free sites.  Unless you can pay Comcast for priority access?  Yeah, didn’t think that was in your budget.

Oh, and I didn’t mention AT&T.  Or Verizon.  You can pay them too, right?

A loss of Net Neutrality is a loss for the entire credit union movement.

You may be thinking, “yeah, ok, it may not be good, but he’s overreacting.”  Wish I were.  Portugal has been in the news as an example of what happens when Net Neutrality goes away.  Their internet access has “zero-rating” data tiers (so you don’t accrue data usage when visiting certain sites), a first step towards this environment.

We need Net Neutrality for an open exchange of information, ideas, and business relationships.  I’m imploring you to speak out.  You may visit www.gofccyourself.com to submit a comment.  But I’d also suggest you speak to your representatives directly.

All 100 million credit union members are depending on it.

Update: Clarified web access in Portugal.