The topic of net neutrality has been hotly debated over recent months, but it’s important to note that this issue isn’t incredibly politically divisive. In fact, the majority of both Democrats and Republicans agree that net neutrality ensures a freely functioning and competitive internet market. The controversy around the topic actually stems from divisive and misleading narratives about what net neutrality is. These “alternative facts” claim it’s another form of government overreach and restricts our freedom as internet users. In recent years, internet service providers (ISPs) have given a lot of money to lobbyists to change attitudes towards net neutrality, so it’s no surprise that these misleading narratives are starting to gain some traction in Congress.
What is Net Neutrality?
So, in the chaos of all these conflicting narratives, what do we know about net neutrality? In its simplest form, an individual pays their chosen ISP and receives access to the entire web at the same speed as everyone else.
This means that your ISP, be it Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, etc., is not going to regulate download speed based on how much you pay or which web services they favor. They also won’t restrict your access to a website for the same reasons.
What do we risk to lose?
In a world without net neutrality, your ISP can regulate what you get access to on the internet, and how fast you get access to it. In this scenario, your ISP could offer you a list of tiered packages. In one package, you pay $50 a month for access to sites like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube at slower speeds. If you want to pay more for a premium package, you may get access to a list of second-tier sites and services at slightly faster download times. For $150 a month, you can get access to the entire internet at the fastest speeds.
Scenarios like these are currently regulated under the rules of net neutrality. But that hasn’t stopped ISPs from going against government rules and regulations to restrict the internet to their customers. In recent years, ISPs such as Comcast and AT&T have been caught restricting access to unfavored sites, or making their download speeds so slow that they are rendered useless to their customers.
In fact, from 2007–2009, AT&T forced Apple to block Skype and other competing VOIP phone services on the iPhone. The ISP wanted to prevent iPhone users from using any application that would allow them to make calls on voice services that competed with its own. When the Google Voice app came out in 2009, it received a similar treatment from carriers like AT&T. All of this behavior was undisclosed to AT&T’s consumers for years.
If net neutrality was gone, ISPs would not be bound by government rules and regulations requiring them to serve the entire web equally.
This would be great news for certain corporations. If I’m an ISP in today’s market, I’m probably struggling to find ways to make more money from my existing customers while also staying competitive against other ISPs. But if I can restrict access or download speed and create tiered packages for my customers, I can 1.) charge different websites and web services to have access to my customers, and 2.) I can charge consumers much more based on tiering their access.
Huge win for ISPs; not so much for everyone else.
Why does this matter for technical marketing?
Here are a few ways that net neutrality influences what we do:
- Equal access gives everyone a fair fight. By giving all consumers equal access to the internet, websites compete with each other for our attention on the same playing field. This way, no websites or services are able to reach more consumers based on consumer income or which ISPs decide to partner with them.
- The cost of services could skyrocket. The most realistic projection of what non-neutrality would look like features tiered pricing and fast lanes for internet users. Because of this, marketing campaigns might need to adapt distribution strategies and certain content like video. Tiered pricing and geo-targeting would make it more difficult to easily reach a national audience and might require the delivery of different content based on better video streaming performance.
The need to develop and distribute multiple versions of content to support a single campaign would be costly, which goes even further to favor those businesses who have the capital to ensure their success on the web.
- A non-neutrality system creates winners and losers in an industry. In a lot of ways, what we can do for clients all hinges on the assumption that anyone using the internet has equal access to the content we’re optimizing.
The strategy and expertise we lend to our clients, and the quality of the services we deliver hopefully bolsters their brand and helps get their content in front of their target audience. All of this is made more complicated in a non-neutrality situation where there is a built-in advantage for those who have money and influence over ISPs. Though the opportunity for SEO would still be there, the need would be smaller and even more competitive.
- Net neutrality means more players. With net neutrality, anyone can simply register and host a website, have have the same opportunity as anyone else to gain visibility. With net neutrality, ISPs give everyone the same access to the internet. This ultimately leads to more competition and innovation over time.Though we may not see an immediate threat to innovation, we may have reason to fear a decline in the long run. As ISPs begin to charge fees, it will become more expensive and difficult to launch new web services, especially for smaller companies or individuals not tied to existing players. This could mean a completely new internet compared to the one we know today – one with only a handful of players and a much higher barrier to entry.
What can we do?
If you’re slightly freaking out over all this information, don’t worry. Though net neutrality is currently being threatened, there are some things we can all do to make our voices heard and ensure the internet remains equal and free for everyone.
If you feel like taking some action, tell your Congressperson, senator, or your local representatives that you are against this. At Save the Internet and Battle for the Net, you can quickly and easily send a letter to Congress and the FCC, or use their pre-written script to call your representatives.
If petitioning isn’t your style, the easiest way to spread awareness about the importance of net neutrality is to talk about it. By having open discourse, we can all stay informed about the reality of losing the right to equal internet access as a utility.