The hotly contended issue of net neutrality has been making headlines for months.
On December 14th 2017, the United States’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the current net neutrality regulations, which required internet service providers to classify high-speed internet as a public utility. Within the bounds of these net neutrality regulations, service providers could not charge consumers for high-quality delivery or be found giving preferential treatment to certain websites.
With the repeal in motion, what happens now?
Pro-net neutrality advocates have been up in arms decrying the end of freedom of speech. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. The FCC chairman responsible for the repeal, Ajit Pai, declared that the regulations “impeded innovation”, adding that they were based on “hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom.” While this may seem exaggerated, it sums up the fervor of the FCC’s stance. The other side of the argument is that true innovation is attributed to risk-taking entrepreneurs, rather than large corporations.
In 2018, Individual states through the US have now taken matters into their own hands. On Jan 27th, the governor of Montana issued an executive order to keep net neutrality regulations in place, with the governor of New York issuing the same pledge just two days before. Many state attorneys have even filed suit against the FCC, include, of course, New York, as well as California, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
Stoking the flames further, a trade group representing major tech companies like Facebook and Amazon have pledged to support legal challenges to the reversal. With the true beneficiaries of the repeal being large telecommunication corporations and a select few, high-powered individuals, this issue is being framed as a David versus Goliath battle for a “free and open internet.”
To better understand how this will affect both the general public, and businesses everywhere that are not AT&T, Comcast, or Verizon, one needs to look no further than a highly circulated screenshot. In the example below, the country of Portugal gives us a hint at what the internet might look like when there are no regulations.
While Portugal is bound to European Union neutrality rules, there has been amble wiggle room for a variety of pricing schemes. MEO, the country’s wireless carrier, offers “Smart Net bundles. In other words, if you use Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn as an example, there will be a monthly attached to that use.
And while 5 euros a month is not earth-shattering, this kind of model risks creating a two-tier system that harms competition — consumers will focus their attention on apps available in the bundles, leaving other, lesser-established apps and upstarts on an unequal playing field.
For businesses both large and small, this becomes fraught territory. US government statistics show that 99.7% of all businesses have fewer than 500 employees, with over 23 million enterprises being one-person operations.
To anyone marketing a brand, service, or product, the direct effect is a potentially diminished online reach. With firm competition amongst companies being the reality for any, and every industry, the repeal of net neutrality will make this competition even fiercer. According to research from Google subsidiary DoubleClick, visitors who have to wait more than 3 seconds for a mobile site to load will abandon their search 53 percent of the time. This will make the whole process of gaining and converting leads increasingly difficult.
With larger corporations issuing bold responses against the repeal, we see excellent first steps towards counteracting the dissolution of these regulations. Without net neutrality, attention goes to the company paying top dollar, rather than those whose reach depends on SEO.
According to Forbes, when money takes precedence over quality, “the standard for content and product quality will drop while smaller e-commerce prices skyrocket to compensate for the cost.” In short, marketers will have to focus attention on websites that have the most user access.
One positive is that the story continues to develop. Those opposed to the repeal of the regulations are not going away quietly. And while this may seem like a US-only issue, the ripples from the changes to these regulations will be felt globally. Business just got tougher for anyone doing business online within the bounds of the US.
Net neutrality, and the defense of its regulations, is of the utmost importance to all who consider marketing to be their profession. Keep your eyes peeled in the days, weeks, and months to come for more information regarding net neutrality, and how it will affect your business, brand, or service.