Net Neutrality (Open Internet Order) was enacted on Feb 26th, 2015. It stated that Internet Service Providers (ISP) are not allowed to block, throttle, or discriminate between content on their site and across the internet.
In December 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) voted to repeal Net Neutrality. This puts businesses like yours at risk for being harder to find—and it’s already hard! It puts consumers at risk because they will have a harder time finding the information and products they are looking for.
That is a lot of formal talk for a very complicated topic. Let me try to simplify it with an analogy. Think of your local public library. Regardless if you make $13,000 per year or $13 million, when you walk into that library will have access to the same resources, tools, help, books, education, and opportunity. This is what Net Neutrality provided for the internet—an assurance that everyone had access to everything. Now imagine if this same library was sponsored by a church or a politician. Most likely, the content or policies within that library would change or be modified based on the views, practices, and beliefs of the sponsor. There is no guarantee that it would change, but it would be assumed that the information is skewed in some way. Look at research that is funded by the company that produces a product—of course, their study is always going to say “this is a great product”.
So before we dive into the ways that this ruling can affect consumers, small businesses, and even big businesses, let me clarify a misconception that many people have. When you go to Google to search for something, Google is NOT searching the entire internet. Instead, it is only searching the websites and web pages that it has indexed in the Google library. Even if you have registered your site to be indexed by Google, there is no guarantee that it is indexing each and every page of your website. This is vital information for understanding how the repeal of Net Neutrality can change the market.
The repeal of Net Neutrality specifically affects internet prices, the sorting of content, and access to local news. The companies who are expected to directly benefit from this are Amazon, AT&T, Facebook, Google, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
From a big picture, this has the potential to limit innovation and increase the barriers to entry in this market giving the media more control and less accountability. From a small business perspective, it could mean that these companies now control how content is shown, or magically disappears. It also means that each platform has the ability to create its own rules that potentially conflict with another company’s. They could choose a pay-to-play model where unless you pay, you truly won’t be found. Or, they could choose an ethics or political stance where only content and products that are aligned with their views will be found.
Think about that for a minute. For years now, we have chosen our cell phone based on the cell phone provider, or brand, or apps that were available—the classic features and benefits. Now we may be moving into a new market where we chose based on the ethics or political alignment of the company just so we can get access to the information we are interested in. What about your clients? Do they all have the same views as you? Does this mean that you might have to have multiple phones with multiple companies just so you can access folks on another provider?
Or what about your website or your social media strategy? Will you need to have multiple websites just so you can be found? Is social media going to take an extreme pay-to-play approach? While all of these examples may sound extreme, they are a possibility of what is to come.
We honestly don’t know what the effects of the repeal of Net Neutrality will be. Only time will tell that. In the meantime, it does means that your involvement on Facebook and Google just became even more important than it was before.
Oh, and if you are interested, there are a few states who have banned together to fight this. Make sure you check your state to see what actions they are taking.