There’s been a flurry of public opposition following the FCC’s vote to repeal net neutrality, an Obama-era policy that requires the internet to treat all traffic equally.
As a company that specializes in digital marketing strategy for small businesses, Webconsuls is particularly invested in this topic. We help small companies leverage their budget to build a digital presence, and we rely on an open, fair playing field to do so.
Consumers are familiar with the doomsday scenarios such as having to pay to do a Google search or stream the entire season of “Stranger Things” in one sitting, but what are the implications for small businesses and online marketing?
What Is Net Neutrality?
There are internet service providers (ISPs): Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, etc. These companies want control over how their services are used. Then, there are companies that need the internet for their services. These range from major media companies like Google, Facebook and Netflix, to small businesses. They don’t want ISPs to prioritize specific data over other data.
Under net neutrality, ISPs must treat all data equally and not charge differently by user, website, platform, content, application, device, etc. With these rules in place, ISPs can’t block, slow down or charge for access to individual websites and online content.
The policy ensures that both massive media companies and small companies can share information and sell their services on a fair and level playing field, without restrictions imposed by ISPs.
Net Neutrality: The Consumer Perspective
There are a bunch of different models that hypothesize how non-neutrality might unfold for consumers. Some worry that the internet could become a “pay to play” scheme: consumers would have basic access to a select number of websites, and would have to pay more for more websites, improved connection, faster download times and streaming.
What Are the Implications for Small Businesses?
Digital marketing and free internet are inextricably linked. Net neutrality facilitates healthy competition between businesses of all sizes and industries, and there’s a real demand for digital marketing services, like SEO, PPC and content marketing, that drive web traffic.
When the internet is accessible to everyone, everyone gets a fair shot. Small businesses can compete with larger businesses without having to pay an ISP.
With non-neutrality, the tools used to control traffic–like organic SEO, PPC and content marketing–might not apply anymore. The “pay to play” scheme could apply to businesses too, which could have serious consequences for small businesses. Businesses could have to pay ISPs for a plan that allows them to reach consumers who aren’t paying for full-access plans, dipping into their marketing budgets.
A small business, even one that’s successful, probably doesn’t have millions of dollars to pay for a seat at the table. But larger businesses can afford to shell out the big bucks for preferential treatment from ISPs and outspend their competition.
There’s still a lot we don’t know, and it’s difficult to predict what will happen because the repeal won’t become official for a few months, and congress can still overrule FCC authority to keep net neutrality in place.
Worst case scenario: The internet becomes a pay to play scheme, à la Portugal, for consumers and businesses.
Now more than ever, ISPs are under a scrutinizing spotlight and they don’t want to ruffle any feathers. If the repeal passes, consumers and businesses might not notice any changes to their internet service or traffic, but stay tuned and adaptable. Just because we won’t experience changes initially doesn’t mean we never will.
We’re venturing into uncharted territory, and it’s hard to tell how companies will proceed if the repeal is passed. For example, Google started as a search engine and content company. With Google Fiber, they’re now also an ISP. Comcast and AT&T, both ISPs, own NBCUniversal and DirecTV, respectively. Without net neutrality, it’s uncertain what these big players will do.
Until then, there are a few things you can do to stop the repeal from becoming law. Battle for the Net lets you see where your state’s members of Congress stand on net neutrality. They make it pretty easy to write or call your members of Congress, and they also have a map of scheduled community meetings, town halls and protests near you. If you own a small business, you have a unique perspective. Share it.