The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has joined with a coalition of businesses and public interest groups working to preserve rules surrounding the open internet, also known as net neutrality. These rules have been in place informally since the dawn of the internet, and were formally established in 2015.
Net neutrality is shorthand for the concept that internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the internet. More specifically, net neutrality requires that broadband networks be free of restrictions on content, sites or platforms. Networks should not restrict the equipment that may be attached to them, nor the modes of communication allowed on them. Finally, networks should ensure that communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams.
Why Does NAR Care?
The business of real estate is increasingly conducted online. Streaming video, virtual tours and voice-over-internet-protocol are just some of the technologies that are commonly used by REALTORS® today. In the future, new technologies will be adopted that will no doubt require unencumbered network access.
Some real estate professionals, realty website operators and real estate industry-affiliated content providers believe net neutrality provisions are necessary to prevent broadband providers (cable and telephone companies, primarily) from implementing possibly discriminatory practices that could negatively impact real estate professionals’ use of the internet to market their listings and services. Some possible examples include practices that would:
- Limit the public’s access to real estate websites
- Limit a real estate firm’s access to online service providers who may be in competition with network operators’ own services, e.g., internet phone services
- Charge certain websites more for the broadband speeds necessary to properly transmit or display audio or video content, such as online property tour, podcast or phone services
In April 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a final rule implementing open internet regulations that prohibit the blocking or degrading of lawful content on the internet by internet service providers. Shortly after the rules were finalized, Internet service providers (ISPs) Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, and their trade association, all sued to halt implementation of the rules, alleging that the FCC does not have proper authority. The FCC, under Chairman Ajit Pai, has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would roll back the rules put in place in 2015 and leave the internet service market largely unregulated. ISPs would be under no duty to prevent blocking or degrading its customers’ internet service. They would also now be permitted to create “fast lanes,” or deals negotiated with large content carriers to carry some website traffic faster than others.
Congress is beginning talks to explore whether legislation can be agreed to that would preserve open internet rules into law and avoid the ping pong of regulatory rules that businesses and consumers have experienced on this issue for the past several years.
NAR and its coalition partners are working both at the FCC and on Capitol Hill to preserve common sense open internet rules that will permit its members to continue to operate and innovate online. Preserving net neutrality means stronger protections for our members, and better results for the clients they serve.
- Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers can’t speed up, slow down or block any websites or applications.
- Net neutrality is important to small, main street businesses like real estate brokerages that depend on open internet access every day to run their businesses and serve their customers.
- NAR supports net neutrality and urges Congress to oppose legislation that would threaten the current FCC open internet rule and roll back the important protections put in place by the FCC in 2015.
Melanie Wyne is senior technology policy representative at the National Association of REALTORS®.
This column is brought to you by the NAR Real Estate Services group.
For more information, please visit www.nar.realtor.
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