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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 the fray to provide clarity.

We’ll start by defining net neutrality and will provide the reasoning behind why Linkmedia 360 opposes the recent repeal and believes in an open and free internet for all. 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. Any company theoretically had the same access and opportunity to compete as 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. Unfortunately, that’s not how the proposed changes to net neutrality will work.

Hard to Stay Neutral About the End of Net Neutrality

With the current repeal, ISP’s now have far more ability than they previously did to influence not only what you see, but how quickly you see it. Instead of all web traffic treated the same, ISP’s can now favor companies that can afford to pay for faster tier speeds. In essence, there’s a good chance that 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, but we don’t imagine it will be positive. 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.
  3. Premiums all-but guaranteed – Faster speeds, unbridled access, and unlimited reach will go to the highest bidder, pitting the leaders of industries against smaller competition. Who do you think will win? If your answer was the ISP’s, you’re right. They will have the ability to double dip and charge both companies and users. This will drive the cost of products to rise as a reactionary result to new costs incurred a non-net neutrality America.

Net Neutrality: Long Term Ramifications

  1. Decreased competition, innovation – One of the sad 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? The Facebook’s and Google’s of the world will see increased revenue, but the end-user will suffer as decreased offerings stifle innovation.
  2. Small and medium sized businesses take the hit – As we predicted with decreased competition, the end of net neutrality will 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. Start-ups fate will be determined by the company the ISP is loyal to, not the determination of the consumer.
  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, and we would argue the same. Your favorite podcasts, white papers, downloadable case studies and more will become monetized. And the costs could vary based on whether the freemium content uses audio/video elements. Mobile apps will become more expensive, and the inclusion of more microtransactions to nickel and dime players will become even more commonplace.

What Can We Do About It?

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.

While we can’t predict net neutrality’s impact on digital marketing as an industry or our specific client partners, we can tell you that the recent repeal poses a barrier to free speech, information, and sharing online. Before burrowing your head underground in our post net neutrality world, keep the following in mind: there’s time.

Battle For The Net, for example, provides a dropdown list that provides the names of members serving congress in your state. Call them and voice your concern! It’s going to take time until net neutrality is officially dead, and your voice has the power of both impact and change at this crucial juncture.

Linkmedia 360 believes in an open and free internet. Increased competition doesn’t intimidate us. 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.

About the Author


Brett Benko

Senior Digital Solutions Specialist

Brett Benko is a digital solutions specialist. He has a knack for client empathy and constantly challenges himself to derive insight while obtaining tangible results. He graduated from Kent State University in 2012. He remains active in academia, having recently served on selection committees and charitable boards. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, writing fiction and poetry, traveling, and unabashedly sings karaoke (to mixed reactions) with friends.

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