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Net Neutrality Is Essential to Growing Your Business and Brand Video has emerged as a marketing mainstay of Internet business but unaffordable "fast lanes'' would tilt the playing field against emerging companies.

By Eric Hoffert Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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It's been more than 25 years since the Internet went public, but we're still debating the ground rules for the World Wide Web. In particular, the net neutrality debate continues to divide individuals, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and telecommunications providers alike.

Net neutrality, or the notion that Internet service providers (ISPs) and governments should treat all online data equally, has raised many important considerations on whether the Internet should have so-called "fast lanes" that prioritize content based on the ability to pay—and "slow lanes" for providers who can't afford the special treatment. Net neutrality supporters believe that all online information should be treated equally, while opponents maintain that fast lanes and priority access will improve the speed and quality of the Internet.

Related: Etsy CEO: We Couldn't Have Succeeded Under Proposed FCC Net Neutrality Rule

Net neutrality isn't just about fairness. Should the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allow ISPs to block traffic or offer preferential treatment, this regulation would equate to a business black hole for entrepreneurs and small- to medium-sized businesses. The Internet is a boon for individuals and businesses wanting to build their brand and grow their revenues online. The end of the open web would put smaller players at a severe disadvantage against larger competitors, without millions of dollars to pay ISPs for "fast lane" access.

Publishers of all sizes rely on video

Online video has become a rapidly-growing area for businesses looking to raise their brand profile, with over 187 million Americans watching 46.6 billion video streams in March of this year alone, while the number of video ad views totaled 28.7 billion. With online video and video ad viewing rates accelerating, while traditional TV watching is declining, it's no wonder marketers view this as a means to reach new audiences and better engage existing ones.

Video has shifted from an experimental initiative for brands to a strategic tool for businesses to connect with viewers. Clearly, video's time is here – and companies need to have the tools to stream videos, reach their target audiences and effectively monetize their content. Of total online video consumption, 65 percent comes from publishers outside the top 10 video sites (the "long tail") and 58 percent of all traffic on the Internet is delivered as video.

Many small businesses now rely on video as a core part of their marketing strategy, which could change dramatically if net neutrality is eliminated. If you can't afford to pay an ISP to push your video content down the funnel, your potential customers have less chance to view your videos.

Related: The Latest FCC Net Neutrality Rules Should Be Opposed

By maintaining net neutrality, businesses of all sizes can reap the benefits of strategically incorporating online video into their plans. Publishing original video content via video player and platform technology will allow businesses to maximize control and user experience of their content. This happens in three primary ways:

  • Monetization. Businesses can use insights gleaned from end-user data to deliver highly targeted ads and acquire this revenue. Digital video advertising is growing incredibly quickly, and is expected to pull in $5.4 billion by 2016, up from $2.16 billion in 2011.
  • Brand recognition. Delivering video content in a branded player boosts traffic to a publisher's site and builds greater brand awareness.
  • Recommendations. Based on a user's browsing history and interactions, relevant video content can be recommended, helping your brand more deeply engage viewers.

An Open Video Ecosystem

A small number of large video companies such as Netflix, Hulu and YouTube have the massive reach and capital to pay additional fees for preferential treatment to speed video content delivery to end-users. But there are a large number of smaller publishers that form the backbone of the entrepreneurial video economy but do not have the individual reach or capital to pay these same extra fees.

This is unacceptable. Video publishers of all sizes should be able to have their video traffic carried at the same performance levels as larger and more well-known publishers. Rather than building costly specialized infrastructure dedicated for the top video sites and charging high prices for this access, ISPs and network providers should focus on how to segment video traffic for fast delivery to publishers of all sizes. Ensuring a level playing field for video content across publishers is essential, lest we create a new form of "digital video divide"the haves and have nots of fast video delivery.

Related: Loss of Net Neutrality Risks a Less Friendly Internet for Entrepreneurs

Eric Hoffert

Chief Technology Officer, JW Player

Eric Hoffert has more than 25 years of experience developing digital media, mobile, and enterprise software products at Apple, Spotify, AT&T Bell Labs and more.  He’s co-founded the QuickTime software project and led development of the first real-time software video compression algorithm running on the QuickTime multimedia standard while at Apple. Eric also served as a software architect for a new product initiative at Spotify, published multiple papers and received the CEO Technical Award for the development of QuickTime software while at Apple.

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