The end of net neutrality is upon us. Until now, we’ve had equal access to the entire breadth and depth of the Internet—a key factor in the success of many budding businesses. But new repeals on existing federal regulations have spurred a massive flood of unknowns for businesses, especially those that rely heavily on their digital presence.
In order to prepare for the potential perils of throttled browsing speeds and prioritized content, it’s essential to understand the fundamentals of net neutrality. From here, we’ll explore how small and medium-sized businesses can compete in an era of deregulation.
The Source of a Neutral Web
Since the mass-adoption of the Internet in the nineties, policymakers at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)have debated how to enable public access to the Internet while still promoting corporate investment in improving broadband technologies.
In June 2005, a Supreme Court decision held that the FCC should keep cable Internet access unregulated—a regulatory model that held for at least another decade. In this decision, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were deemed “information services” or “common carriers,” which was a classification that subjected them to federal restrictions and required fair consumer access to websites. This neutral stance on Internet access is how the term “net neutrality” was coined. Under penalty of law, the FCC disallowed ISPs to:
- Block or censor websites
- Prioritize or sort websites
- Throttle broadcasting speeds
Soon after the June decision, in September 2005, the FCC deregulated DSL Internet access and released anInternet Policy Statement. This statement declared that “to encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet,” consumers are entitled to:
- Access the lawful Internet content of their choice
- Run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement
- Connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network
- Choose from competing network providers, application and service providers, and content providers
Net Neutrality and Online Businesses
In theory, through net neutrality, every business that has on online presence should be able to compete at the same level. When a website is created, the same search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) techniques are used to gain site traffic. This means that anyone is able to enter the market, and everyone has the ability to access the web freely.
Net neutrality meant that the little guys had a fair chance of competing with the big guys. Fewer hurdles for startups meant higher chances of success. While consumers had on-demand access to new businesses and products, they could also retrieve open-source software if they so desired. But that was exactly the point: consumers could access the Internet’s oceans of information in any capacity they chose. The decision was entirely up to them.
What Happened to Net Neutrality?
In March 2015, the FCC released their Open Internet Order—a report that reinforced net neutrality and Open Internet concepts. The Open Internet Order aimed to protect public interest, advocating that a free and open Internet promotes “innovation, competition, free expression, and infrastructure deployment.” Additionally, this report acknowledged that broadband providers have incentive to block the Internet’s openness, so regulation was crucial.
However, after a change in leadership in 2017, the FCC decided to change its policy of net neutrality. In fact, it completely did away with it. This decision, called Restoring Internet Freedom (a name that is grossly misleading), repealed original FCC neutrality framework. It has three components:
1) Consumer protection: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a consumer protection agency, will once again have the jurisdiction to oversee ISPs, in order to prevent unfair and deceptive practices against consumers.
2) Transparency: ISPs must publicly disclose information regarding their network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of service.
3) Removes unnecessary regulations to promote broadband investment: To encourage investment in high-speed networks, especially with small ISPs, the FCC has lifted Title II regulations. They advocate that this will bring faster, better, and cheaper Internet access to more of America.
Perhaps the most prominent of these Restoring Internet Freedom components is the latter of the three, which holds that ISPs should have reason and incentive to develop high-speed Internet infrastructures. Consequently, this deregulation means that ISPs now have the ability to censor, slow, and prioritize Internet content. In other words, ISPs can be selective about which content they offer—a premise that could drastically change how businesses market themselves.
Goodbye Brand Awareness
The new legislation officially took effect on June 11, 2018, and Restoring Internet Freedom has caused consumer speculation about potential repercussions. Many ISPs have not shared what kinds of modifications they will be making to their services and pricing models, but change is almost inevitable. The repeal was implemented for their benefit, so they’d be foolish not to take advantage of it.
Prior to the repeal of net neutrality, businesses and Internet users enjoyed free reign of the Internet. Now, ISPs have the power to demand higher premiums from businesses that wish to reach more consumers at faster speeds. This, of course, puts small and medium-sized businesses at a significant disadvantage as they don’t have the resources available to compete with larger companies that can afford to pay higher premiums for visibility.
Furthermore, because Google’s current search algorithms take website speed into consideration for search ranking, traditional SEO tactics may not be as effective. Internet users won’t have easy access to lesser-known websites—such as those owned by local businesses, which impacts the ability of those local businesses to build brand awareness. Simply put: if a business is not already on a consumer’s radar, the business will have a hard time getting there.
Not only does net neutrality’s repeal hurt small businesses, but it also damages consumers’ free and easy access to web content. ISPs can now divide access to certain websites in packages (i.e. packages of social media websites, video streaming sites, news sites, etc.) and charge consumers for each one. “Free and open” information will no longer be readily available, unless a consumer has paid to access it.
Where To Go From Here
Whether you’re a business owner or consumer, the Restoring Internet Freedom order affects us all. So before we talk about marketing tactics, let’s discuss writing Congress a letter. It’s a small gesture that still can make a big difference. If you’re unsure where to send it, we’ve made it easy. Click here to visit Congress.gov to find your state’s Representatives and Senators.
Now, here’s where we can help:
1. Earn Backlinks
The is no doubt that SEO tactics are going to change, but there are a couple tried and true best practices we can help you implement on your website. Number one, earn backlinks from authoritative sites. According to MOZ, domain-level link features and page-level link features account for more than 40% of ranking factors in Google.
Major online publications are also more likely to be in the financial position to pay ISPs for faster speeds. However, to earn a backlink, you’re going to need to produce some killer content. If composition is a challenge for your team, we’re here to help.
2. Minimize The Size
Not only do you have to ensure your content is worth a link, but you also need to make sure it loads lightning fast. While you’ll have little to no control over how an ISP may prioritize or throttle websites, you can hedge your bets by compressing every image and video on your site. When it comes to keyword-agnostic features, load speed is a major component. According to MOZ, these kinds of webpage elements could account for as much as 9.8% of Google’s ranking factors. Furthermore, loading time is a leading factor in page abandonment.
3. Be A Social Butterfly
There is a serious debate over whether social metrics have any impact on SEO. However, MOZ’s research shows that the quantity/quality of tweeted links, Facebook shares, and Google +1s could account for 7.24% of Google’s ranking factors. Regardless of your thoughts on social signals and their relationship with SEO, one thing is certain: the social media giants will pay whatever it takes to keep their sites at top speed.
If you’re coming up short on your social presence, Werkbot is here to help you ramp it up. By being active on websites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you’ll be able to piggyback on their speed and reach
4. Make A Website Worth Paying For
There is a reason people continue to pay for subscriptions to online publications like the New York Times, AdWeek, or Wall Street Journal—their content is always of the highest caliber. So, should the Internet take a turn for the worse and consumers need to start paying for access to certain websites, be sure yours is worth the money.
Quality is essential now and will continue to be in the future. Find a digital marketing agency that can help you craft stunning web pages, valuable content, and streamlined retail processes.
The stronger your site is when ISPs roll out their new policies, the higher your chances of competing in this new digital landscape. If you’re looking to partner with an agency that aims to help businesses thrive in this precarious digital landscape, reach out to Werkbot today.