You finally have a weekend to yourself and all you want to do is binge-watch your favorite shows on Netflix. Your snacks are lined up and you’ve decided to kick off the weekend by re-watching The Office for the 5th time. You turn on your computer, open your Internet browser, and you’re greeted with this screen:
Are you wondering what this is? This unfamiliar- and slightly off-putting- screen is just a glimpse of what a repeal of net neutrality can do to the Internet as we know it. What you’re looking at is what many countries-such as Portugal and Guatemala- experience on their internet browsers. The Internet is broken down into tiered levels, with a different premium to access each tier of the Internet separately. Streaming services are on a separate tier from search browsers, which are on a separate tier than news sites. To access each, you must pay for each. In a world where the Internet is so heavily relied on for everyday activities, we can’t think of a scenario where this sounds ideal. However, with the repeal of net neutrality, the door for creating this dystopian scenario has opened just a little bit wider. While many people against the repeal of net neutrality are simply looking at it from the perspective of a causal, Netflix-binging, online shopping perspective as depicted above, the real voice that needs to be heard is that of an online business owner.
Before diving in, you’re probably wondering what net neutrality actually is. You’ve heard of it and seen pictures similar to the one above circulating around social media, but you’re still confused as to what it truly is. Simply put, net neutrality is the idea that the Internet is a public utility. Regardless of Internet Service Provider (ISP), mode of access (mobile vs desktop), or demographic, the Internet is an equal playing field for all. ISPs cannot regulate traffic and content, but instead, allow the free flow of information without interference or preference. This allows for smaller sites to receive the same level of search engine consideration as their larger competitors. Net neutrality = net equality.
What the repeal of net neutrality essentially does is allow for giant ISPs (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, etc.) to charge higher prices than they do now, or worse, different prices for different parts of the web. A repeal of net neutrality cripples the competitive environment of online businesses and places unwarranted restrictions on online access.
When we examine what this means for online businesses, the first component that comes to mind is SEO. Search Engine Optimization will no longer be based on playing by the rules. Instead, net neutrality can create a bidding war, making it harder for the “little guy” to compete with mainstream, larger businesses. The tides of online marketing can very well shift away from content and value-based marketing, which is what many businesses rely on now. Sharing content across platforms can become more difficult as users may only have access to certain sites without a “premium/top tier” subscription to the Internet. What this means is that each piece of content for SEO will now have to be tailored for each search engine individually instead of as a whole.
Additionally, the repeal of net neutrality can generate an increased price in the online entry for new businesses looking to create their presence. As it stands now, the barrier to entry is relatively low for creating your own space online. Under repealed net neutrality, there are separate processes and payment structures that have to be considered. A new online business will need to contact ISPS individually to have access to their site available for access on their individual tiers. Money and influence are the names of the game, and there’s no way around it.
It’s important to note that there is no one set model for what a non-neutral Internet will look like, but examples do exist and these are very real possibilities that business owners and marketers need to consider. As the repeal of net neutrality rules are set to take place in a few days, we at WebiMax will keep a watchful eye on how to better optimize and tailor our efforts and services to accommodate for any changes that may occur.