Why Digital Marketers Should Care About Net Neutrality

by | Dec 29, 2017 | General Marketing Tips

net neutralOn Thursday, December 14th 2017 the future of the internet as we know it came into doubt when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed net neutrality rules.

Today, I want to focus on key questions about net neutrality and share some of my own thoughts about the potential impact repealing these rules could have on online marketing.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers (ISPs), like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use. These rules essentially guarantee that the internet is open and all companies and websites on it can compete on an even playing field.

Without net neutrality rules, ISPs will be allowed to bring in tiered pricing models for their services. For example, they can charge a customer $50 per month and give you access to Amazon, Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp.

If you want access to YouTube, too, that’s an extra $20 per month. If you also want access to Netflix, your ISP is allowed charge an additional $20 per month, and if you want to access the full web (like you currently have on your basic subscription), that’s another $50 per month.

Those figures are probably a little unrealistic. However, once net neutrality rules are repealed ISPs will be able to charge different amounts for access to different websites, services and applications.

As a marketer, why should I care about net neutrality?

There are a few reasons why you should be concerned about this latest move from the FCC.

The first one is the above scenario I just described. If consumers are effectively forced to pay extra to access content outside the biggest sites on the net, your pool of potential customers drops significantly.

Secondly, ISPs could start charging you for the number of visits to your website each month, which would essentially turn organic search into paid search. While it will still be up to the search engine to decide who will rank on page one, ISPs can hold you over a barrel and potentially bring in a pricing structure like this:

  • Bronze Package (5,000 web visit limit): $2,000
  • Silver Package (10,000 visit limit): $5,000
  • Gold (15,000 visit limit): $8,000
  • Unlimited Package (100,000 visit limit): $20,000

Any additional visitors, outside the remit of your package, could be throttled. For example, their speed could be slowed down when visiting your site to the effect that it could take 50 times longer than it should to load your pages — essentially making the user experience so bad that conversions will be highly unlikely.

It’s not just organic traffic that will be affected either. The same thing could also happen for paid traffic going to a squeeze page. Scary!

Another very likely scenario is that companies may have to pay a premium when registering a website or an app to the ISPs to allow their site to be visible, and load quickly for their subscribers.

Scenario’s like these will almost certainly have a negative impact on entrepreneurship and innovation. It will be a lot more difficult to launch businesses and to get them off the ground. It also means that we are less likely to see the next Facebook or next Google emerge in the future… and that’s a pretty daunting thought.

What happens now that net neutrality has been repealed?

Even though I’ve painted a pretty grim picture so far, I don’t think that the repealed net neutrality rules will have any negative effect on how the internet currently works. The rules that were repealed only came into effect back in 2015 and ISPs won’t dare to bring in tiered access to the internet in the short-term. The backlash will be too strong.

However, the fact that there has been such a long and hard lobbying process to get these rules repealed tells me that we’ll see some significant changes in the medium to long term.

Are ISPs trying to destroy the internet, as we know it?

I’m not going to try to make a case against net neutrality but I do have some sympathy for ISPs. After all, they spend billions on infrastructure to power the internet. Is it fair that Google, Facebook, Amazon et al. make very handsome profits each year on the back of this infrastructure, while they don’t share a piece of the pie with ISPs?

What about Skype, YouTube, WhatsApp and Netflix etc… using huge amounts of data, and cutting into the profits of cable and phone services where the major players in those industries are also the internet service providers?

It doesn’t seem like a fair game.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m against net neutrality. The absence of net neutrality rules scares me. It has huge implications for consumers and businesses, not just in the U.S. but throughout the world.

How does the repealing of net neutrality rules in the US affect other countries?

Similar to the U.S., the principles of net neutrality were written into E.U. law back in 2015. Great for us Europeans, right? We get to sit back and have a chuckle at the latest crazy decision made across the pond, in America.

Wrong. In my opinion, it will only be a matter of time before the net neutrality rules are also repealed in Europe. A decision as big as the one the FCC just made will filter to the rest of the world. John Kennedy of Silicon Republic goes into a little bit more detail on why, here.

A final word of advice on net neutrality

In the absence of net neutrality rules, companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will be able to call all the shots and decide which websites, content and applications succeed. That isn’t right. It’s a form of censorship.

ISPs can charge extra fees to the few web content publishers that can afford to pay for preferential treatment — demoting everyone else to a slower tier of service. Users demand speed, and fast loading pages, so it means pay up or be left behind. Net neutrality is crucial for innovation and competition. We need the open internet. It’s thanks to net neutrality that businesses and entrepreneurs have been able to thrive online. Companies that form part of The Agora network, with such contrarian views, would not have been able to emerge, grow, and succeed, if there wasn’t an open internet for the past 25 years.

Bottom line: Without net neutrality, ISPs can exploit their gatekeeper position and destroy the internet’s fair and level playing field.

But it isn’t too late to stop it, and that’s where you come in.

The battle for the open internet isn’t over yet. Congress can still overrule the FCC decision. You can play your part by visiting https://www.battleforthenet.com/, and sending a quick note to congress. It’ll take less than two minutes, and could make the world of difference.

Colm O’Sullivan
SEO Specialist, AIM