The National Association of Realtors has always championed net neutrality. They have argued that net neutrality was a means for internet fairness for small businesses and consumers. A recent article for Realtor Magazine (the official magazine of the NAR) by Robert Freedman hits the same talking points of many recent NAR articles and statements (How FCC Plan to End Net Neutrality Hurts You; realtormag.realtor.org; November 21, 2017). Freedman wrote that a reversal of net neutrality rules would “make it harder for real estate companies, multiple listing services, and property data aggregators to provide their serices in a cost-effective way.”
The NAR takes the position, like many net neutrality advocates, that net neutrality is good for business and consumers. A December 15th NAR press release (nar.realtor) stated “NAR has actively supported net neutrality for years. We are concerned that a rollback of net neutrality rules could raise costs on business owners, like real estate professionals, who make heavy use of technology and online platforms. In particular, NAR notes that paid-prioritization models and other anti-competitive practices could put small businesses at a significant disadvantage…”
But a recent article for the Foundation of Economic Education by Dr. Kyle Swann (Net Neutrality Isn’t Neutral At All; fee.org; December 14, 2017) lays net neutrality’s real issues. He argues that the growth and innovation of the internet happened during the twenty years prior to FCC regulation. Prior to the net neutrality rule, internet service providers (ISP’s) and edge providers’ (internet content providers and platforms we use daily) services were offered “subject to mutual agreement.” He also points out that the FCC’s “pri mary function” is to regulate me dia content, and that the FCC’s Open Internet rules “expressly per mit ISPs to block, filter and curate content.” Rolling back the 2015 net neutrality rule shifts ISP over sight from the FCC back to the FTC. Swann’s answer to an open internet is to promote ISP competition, giving consumers a choice.
During the net neutrality rule, ISP’s were no longer exclusively accused of censorship, fast track ing content, and promotion for payment. Some content providers were also accused of similar practices. Rana Foroohar writing for Financial Times (Why Big Tech wants to keep the net neutral ft.com; December 17, 2017) calls attention to how the larger content providers (FANG) actually benefited from net neutrality. Some of these FANGs have seen exponen tial growth in the last several years. Foroohar, like Swann and others, expresses her opinion that an application of real internet equality and consistency should be consumer driven.
Counter to NAR’s point, the cost of doing business on the internet has already become expensive and cost prohibitive for many Realtors. Some have argued that the large real estate content providers have greatly expanded their market share during net neutrality. These content providers promote the agents who can afford the service. Needless to say, this paid arrangement does not guarantee home buyers and sellers a competent, ethical or consumer oriented agent. And it’s not necessarily cost-effective either, because advertising costs are usually passed on to the buyer or seller.
The answer may be, as many argue, is competition. Not just with ISP’s, but with content providers as well. A truly open internet will allow for innovation and increased competition, allow ing the consumer to choose the winners and losers. Dr. Swann is correct in saying, “Whatever side of this you’re on, it’s quite probable that the people you’re demonizing want the same things you want.”
Dan Krell is a Realtor® with RE/MAX Success in Potomac, MD. You can access more information at DanKrell.com