Net Neutrality Action Puts Real Estate Technology in Focus

In 1981, 22 percent of home buyers relied on advertisements in the newspaper to find their dream home, while 8 percent turned to a friend for word-of-mouth information.

Since then, lots has changed. According to recent survey data from the National Association of Realtors®, nearly half of buyers headed to the internet as the first step in their home search. As real estate professionals rely more and more on technology to meet consumer demands, Realtors® say the issue of net neutrality is of growing importance.

Net neutrality refers the idea that Internet users should control what content they view and the applications they use online. A “net neutral” system requires that broadband networks remain free of restrictions on content, websites, or platforms, as well as the way communication takes place.

The Federal Communications Commission implemented “net neutral” rules in 2015, but under a new administration the FCC has since proposed a rollback of those protections.

NAR made its position on this proposal clear this week in official comments to the FCC. NAR pointed to net neutrality’s role in encouraging small business innovation, citing the potential rollback as a threat to innovation.

NAR’s 2017 Real Estate in a Digital Age Report showed that the demands of home buyers are changing, putting the importance of a free and open internet in focus. For example, 50 percent of buyers said they found virtual tours “very useful,” while over 40 percent said the same of interactive maps.

Realtors® themselves are also putting technology to work in greater numbers as they work to meet this demand. The report finds that the vast preponderance of Realtors® use a website, email, text messaging and social media in their business.

Less conventional technologies are catching on as well. According to the report, over 30 percent of Realtors® say they are currently or plan to use drones in the future. But as more Realtors® use drones to capture images and otherwise serve their clients, NAR is raising concerns that a net neutrality rollback would put that progress at risk.

“Since UAS (drones) are network connected devices—disrupted, degraded or blocked service to these devices could significantly reduce their usefulness,” NAR said in its comments. “Consumers would lose the benefit of enhanced aerial photography and drone photographers would lose a source of income.”

Citing Realtors® as early adopters of consumer technology, NAR President William E. Brown called for the FCC to leave net neutral rules in place.

“As streaming video, virtual tours and other technologies grow in popularity, these concerns will grow as well,” said Brown. “Net neutrality means stronger protections for our members and better results for the clients they serve. We’re hopeful the FCC considers these concerns as they examine the rule.”

NAR intern Sarah Purcell contributed to this report.

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