Is the end of Net Neutrality the end of Digital Marketing?

Though the FCC just released the final edits in the order to kill net neutrality, there’s still a cacophony of confusion surrounding the controversial ruling. We’re all holding our collective breaths to assess the fallout of the end of net neutrality, and how the repeal might trickle down and affect our given industries.

This is especially true for individuals who work in digital marketing. Agencies like Moz have already taken a passionate stance, and Linkmedia 360 joins in to provide clarity.

We’ll start by defining net neutrality. In addition, we’ll forecast both short and long-term ramifications and how the end of net neutrality could affect the digital marketing industry.

Net Neutrality: Defined

Let’s get the baseline definition of net neutrality out of the way early in case you’ve heard it brought up in the news, but are unsure exactly what it is.
People access the internet much the same way – through an internet service provider – or ISP. Prominent ISP’s in the U.S. include:

  • Verizon
  • Cox
  • AT&T
  • Comcast
  • Spectrum

…and other smaller, local ISP’s. People access their internet connection countless ways, too:

  • Dial-up
  • DSL
  • Cable Internet
  • Wireless Broadband
  • Wi-Fi Internet
  • Cell Phone Network

…to name a few. So, there’s both a variety of ISP’s and ways in which people and companies access the internet.

Net neutrality is the concept that all content on the internet is treated equally, regardless of where the content is hosted or the connection a person uses to access the internet. Before the repeal, net neutrality prevented an ISP from creating tiers or “fast lanes” by charging internet users more money to have access to quicker download times and overall page speed (throttling). It also prevented the ability for ISP’s to prioritize its content over their competitor in the marketplace (site prioritization), or just blocking certain content entirely for no reason.

In its previous form, net neutrality allowed for free and open internet access, hence its neutrality. Every company theoretically had the same access and opportunity to compete with the leaders in a given industry. Thus, net neutrality created a level playing field for both consumers and companies, regardless of the revenue a company drives or influence it wields.

Are You Neutral About the End of Net Neutrality?

Instead of all web traffic treated the same, ISP’s could favor companies that can afford to pay for faster tier speeds. Theoretically, there’s a chance you will end up paying more money to access the stuff you currently consume free of charge.

Here’s how that could work (we don’t yet know how ISP’s will handle this). An ISP could offer several packages to users with various tiers. The lowest tier offering slower page speed and restricted access. The more expensive the tier or package, the faster the page speed, load time, and access to internet content.

Instead of broadband internet access treated like a utility, it will be monetized by ISP’s with restricted access, unless you can afford it. Which doesn’t cause alarm for larger corporations that can foot the bill. But what happens to small and medium-sized businesses?

Again, we don’t have a crystal ball, and predicting the economic impact is anyone’s guess at this point. That said, there are several scenarios which could play out both in the short and long-term. Let’s discuss.

Net Neutrality: Short Term Fallout

  1. ISP’s vs. Content Providers – There’s a war being waged for the soul of search, between ISP’s and content providers like Google, Facebook, Netflix, etc. Online content providers are troubled by larger ISP’s prioritizing their owned content or services over their competition. Data caps, slowed or throttled speeds, and increased cost for access are some ways ISP’s can gain an unfair advantage over competition, that previous regulations prevented.
  2. Chaos in Search – We’re unsure exactly how the end of net neutrality will affect SEO. Non-net neutrality will create opportunities for ISP’s to collect revenue from both consumers and businesses looking to stay competitive. This could change buyer behavior online, which would greatly impact not just digital marketing agencies, but the clients we serve. User experience, or UX, will certainly be impacted. Longer load times will discourage web traffic, changing bounce rates and putting time-tested metrics influx.

Net Neutrality: Potential Long Term Ramifications

  1. Decreased competition, innovation – One of the potential side effects of this repeal is that when faced with decreased competition, companies may cut costs by reducing innovating processes. Can you imagine how your life would be different if companies like Amazon weren’t consistently innovating and transforming business?
  2. Small and medium sized businesses take the hit – As we predicted with decreased competition, the end of net neutrality could bode more than a thorn in the side of small and medium-sized businesses. With a “pay to play” model in place, smaller businesses simply won’t have enough capital to stay competitive. Net neutrality’s impact on digital marketing will be obvious – smaller agencies without a client base of smaller businesses will be forced to go belly up, in favor of intimate, boutique agencies.
  3. The rise of “Freemium” contentMartech Today predicts that the end of net neutrality will also force companies to raise the cost of freemium content. Your favorite podcasts, white papers, downloadable case studies and more could become monetized. And the costs might have variations based on whether the freemium content uses audio/video elements. Mobile apps will become more expensive, and an increase in microtransactions to could become commonplace.

What Can Advocates Do?

If a picture of Ajit Pai’s face is crudely dangling in lieu of your typical dartboard within the office – or if you’ve gone to further extremes, like contributing to the online threats against Ajit Pai that forced him to cancel his appearance at CES – we would advise a more constructive form of protest.

Battle For The Net, for example, provides a dropdown list of names of members serving congress in your state.

Your thoughts and comments are appreciated, and make sure to contact us with any questions as this development continues to shape the future of the internet.

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