On Dec. 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to undo protections surrounding net neutrality, or the free and open internet. The decision is likely to have serious ramifications for all American internet users and internet-based businesses (including real estate websites). While the internet as we know it hasn’t transformed just yet, the commission said Thursday that some rules would take effect April 23. The FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai published an order in the Federal Register that set the timeline for the changing regulations.

Net neutrality allows all internet traffic to be treated the same. Undoing those rules bends to the will of internet service providers, and would allow companies like Comcast and Spectrum to behave more like cable companies and charge more for different types of internet use, whether that’s streaming Netflix or using social media.

The Office of Management and Budget still has to weigh in on some rules, so April 23 will not be a day of definitive change for internet users. The date is most important to the timelines of parties filing lawsuits challenging the FCC’s decision, said Melanie Wyne, a senior policy representative for the National Association of Realtors (NAR) who works on net neutrality. Lawyers planning to appeal the decision now have their own deadline.

Small businesses — like small-scale brokerages — that get less web traffic could see their websites throttled and slowed as a result of the regulation changes. NAR for that reason has opposed net neutrality restrictions and is deciding whether to sign an appeal against the decision or submit an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit.

The group continues to lobby members of Congress on the issue while keeping an eye out for a legislative solution worth supporting. Legislation in the works by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) sounded promising, Wyne said. Coffman has called for the FCC to allow Congress time to propose legislation and has spoken out in support of regulations that would provide clarity and certainty to consumers and internet providers.

“We’ve been letting members of Congress know that we support strong net neutrality rules,” Wyne said. “We have yet to see a bill we want to support, but once that arises we will be supporting legislation.”

Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson, who has also done work around this issue, agreed that legislation will be key in this next phase deciding the future of the internet.

“The open internet and net neutrality have played a role in this data revolution and allowed innovation to flourish,” Richardson said. “Given the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality rules, the ball is now in Congress’s court to pass legislation to protect the open internet.”

Inman previously spoke to real estate pros about their fears of how the net neutrality rollback would play out, including potentially making it harder for small businesses such as Inman to compete online, because they may not be able to afford paying internet providers enough to end up in “fast lanes.”

Read the reactions from the industry

Email Emma Hinchliffe

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