The Repeal of Net Neutrality: What it Means for Marketers

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You’ve likely heard about net neutrality as a hot topic in Congress recently. But, what exactly is it? And how does it impact your business? While there are arguments and speculations for both the repeal and keeping it intact, what we do know is that repealing net neutrality could have a big impact on the digital space.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) are required to treat content and websites on the internet equally – whether they’re a large national company like Comcast or a more local provider. This means  ISPs cannot “favor” any websites by making them faster for consumers, or discredit others by slowing them down.

For example, say one streaming service had partnered with an ISP, without net neutrality, this ISP could reduce the buffer time for that specific streaming service while slowing down load times for its competitors. This service would affect users with service from that ISP, but for those on other networks, other deals or partnerships could be made. Proponents for the repeal of net neutrality claim this will increase competition and reduce prices for consumers, while critics suggest this will enable ISPs to slow down and provide lesser services for their customers while making barriers to entry in the digital space more prevalent.

The Recent FCC Ruling

Last December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 to repeal the net neutrality protections that were put in place in 2015. Officially published as a ruling in the Federal Register on February 22, 2018, Congress had 60 days to prevent the repeal with legislation. Unable to act within the given time allotment, the repeal of net neutrality took effect early last month.

Post-Repeal: Expected Internet Service Changes

Without net neutrality, service provisions can vary widely based upon business affiliations, partnerships, and content – which can be determined based on the format of the content and its message biases, whether due to political, religious, or other controversial statements. Without net neutrality, there’s not yet much of a structure in place to determine what’s fair game, leaving ISPs the freedom to see what works and what doesn’t.

A highly anticipated change is the way internet service is provided. Now, service is typically on a speed and/or datacap basis. It has been suggested that moving forward, without net neutrality, a tiered system could become the new norm. This service structure would be similar to that of a cable package: for a basic plan, only certain channels – or types of websites – would be included with the option to increase your service for access to additional platforms.  

Post-Repeal: Impacts to Digital Marketing

As of today, nothing has changed: Everything on the internet is the same as it was before the vote. However, given ISPs increased freedom and service capabilities, it is highly likely that we may see changes to internet services and digital marketing tactics as early as next year.  Should ISPs begin exerting their increased options in terms of internet service, organic and paid media services will be heavily impacted.

Much like social media platforms have increasingly become, the internet as a whole could turn into a pay-to-play platform; meaning that your paid media budget may not go towards ads but ensuring your website loads quickly enough to retain consumers or show up on search engines at all. But expecting to shell out more for paid strategies isn’t all you can expect: Organic approaches will change as well, depending on how search engines react to ISP updates and how much you can contribute to the paid method. Without the assurance of fairly assigned page speeds or domain authority, you may have to rely even more on your website content, schema markup, and accurate listings for rankings. And as if the personalization factors Google has already put in place doesn’t make your rankings vary enough for one URL, the consumers’ ISP could also impact rankings. So, for people with identical backgrounds in identical geographic locations with identical search history but merely different ISPs, your ranking could differ exponentially.                             

Until Then, It’s Business As Usual

Since April,  37 states and the District of Columbia have proposed or enacted some form of state- or local-level net neutrality protections. Of those, Washington and Oregon have already passed statewide legislation to preserve net neutrality. But, the legislative branch isn’t the only one taking action: Since March, state attorneys from 21 states have filed joint lawsuits against the FCC claiming that the repeal of net neutrality violates the constitution, among other issues. On the executive branch side of government, 18 mayors of some of the nation’s largest markets have come out as opponents, including those from New York City, San Francisco, and Kansas City. So, while it is important that we, as marketers, prepare for any outcome, the issue of net neutrality has not come to a close. In the meantime, continue pursuing strong white hat strategies that have a proven long-term approach in mind.

For help with your marketing strategy and safeguarding against the future, contact us for a free local marketing analysis.

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