R.I.P. Equality

No doubt, everyone who is reading this newsletter is pro-business. But if that is as far as it goes, we could be doing ourselves a big disservice. For most of us, the key is not to be pro-business, but pro-small business.

There is often a big difference between the priorities and agendas of large companies and those of small companies. Large companies can use their clout to get all kinds of concessions and deals that small business owners cannot—which puts small business people at a distinct competitive disadvantage with their big box brethren.

From time to time I will talk to a small business owner—whether in radio or retail—who fails to make that distinction, and follows a path that could lead to his or her own self-destruction.

Nowhere is the distinction between businesses large and small more evident than in the FCC decision to end net neutrality—the policy and practice of making the Internet a level playing field. This is a clear example of when the interests of small business and big business are at odds, big business wins. The giant wireless carriers, who have been patiently waiting for their opportunity, now have the ability to charge you, the small business owner, a lot more money for your Internet usage than what big business has to pay.

Myriad business and business-advocacy groups have come out in favor of this tiered pricing plan, even to the point of saying that such a plan spurs innovation. Of course, they never explain how or why such a plan spurs innovation, and from where I sit, the only innovation it spurs is among large companies, presuming they even have a commitment to innovate.

Make no mistake—this is a huge deal.

It’s great to see so many small-market broadcasters getting into the online streaming business. Doing so is an important part of what is jelling as our primary vehicle for future growth—being available on every platform possible. Watch what happens when carriers and providers have the freedom to adopt a tiered pricing model: it’s going to cost you disproportionately more to deliver your content to each listener online than it costs you now, and than it will cost your larger, more well-heeled competitor.

(It’s also going to cost your listeners a lot more than it does now, which will reduce their time online, which will cut into the traffic to your website.)

“But,” you may say, “I still do business with our small local Internet provider, so I don’t have to worry.”

Au contraire. After all, your small local Internet provider has to get connected to the web from somewhere—and you can probably figure out where that “somewhere” is.

I haven’t heard too much from the NAB on this one, but we need to put pressure on them to represent our interests—which may in fact be contrary to the interests of their larger members. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.