Just before noon today, Thursday, December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a policy that will remove net neutrality consumer protections put into place by the Obama administration. These regulations ensured that internet service providers could not block or impede internet traffic, and also classified internet service providers as Title II carriers to offer a stronger legal case against bias. These protections also ensured that internet subscribers would not be limited in terms of the content they had access to by their ISPs, and the end of these protections by the Trump administration has a massive and lasting impact on the future of the free and open web.
The 3–2 vote by the FCC not only eliminates all efforts to enforce net neutrality that have been instilled thus far, but also removes the Title II designation from internet carriers—which will make implementing new policies or consumer protection regulations in the future much, much harder. Without these rules and policies in place, companies now have free rein to influence what users are able to view and search. In other words, if Comcast decides to eliminate Netflix from their list of accessible domains, Comcast Xfinity subscribers will no longer have access to Netflix. More likely, Comcast will charge a large fee for access to Netflix or other streaming services, or relegate these streaming services to an “internet slow lane” to throttle users’ access in favor of an Xfinity streaming service, or in favor of a streaming partnership they may establish.
Without these rules and policies in place, companies now have free rein to influence what users are able to view and search.
Since the web is in many cases the predominant way in which most companies communicate with customers and users, the removal of net neutrality will certainly—in one way or another—influence your brand’s digital presence. Here are a few probable outcomes your company should keep in mind and prepare for:
- Internet providers will speed up delivery of their content and the content of their partners—while slowing down the delivery of other websites. This change is most likely, and will drive the use of certain platforms (over others) over time. For most companies, this means load times will increase, and users generally have very little patience for slow load times.
- Corporate politics will drive impressions. When two companies decide they no longer get along, or when one enters a competitive space that internet service providers feel is threatening, the biggest influencer will block or slow traffic to the strategically disadvantageous website.
- A la carte internet options. Much like a la carte TV channel options, you’ll have to buy a large package of domains to access the one you care about—which means you’ll pay a lot more. This would significantly limit users’ choice in the web-based services they have access to, and if your brand makes products or services available over the web, it might mean that certain internet subscribers cannot access your website at all.
- Decreased traffic to your website. Overall, the internet will be moving slower due to provider allegiances and anticompetitive choices, and your website is no exception. Either people will have to pay more to access a wider breadth of domains, or providers will slow traffic to all content but their own.
Look, all of this is bad news. And frankly, there’s very little your company can do to ensure net neutrality won’t impact your website short of cozying up to every ISP under the sun. But you can offset some of the impact, and perhaps even find some net gains in impressions and engagement, by optimizing your website and content around what end users really want. Because regardless of what Verizon or Comcast decides to favor or block, users will seek out great experiences and great content however they can. It’s just a matter of getting in front of them.
- Conduct specialized user research. Understanding why your consumers are using the web—what their priorities and intentions are—will help you meet your customers where they are and deliver delightful experiences the moment they find you. As the implications of removing net neutrality surface, people will become more selective about what they choose to pay for, decreasing their overall browsing capability. Ensuring your app or website is providing enough unique value that’s been validated by your core audience can help ensure that the impact on you is minimized.
- Implement an aggressive analytics strategy. Time spent on the internet will likely stay the same, but allocation will change. Implementing predictive analytics along with critical conversion mapping will help determine where and why users are abandoning precious time spent on your site.
- Invest in redesigns or rebuilds to greatly increase UX. Create software so innovative and easy-to-use that customers will gladly seek out your app or website and tolerate load times—or better yet, petition their ISP to improve connectivity. This is a terrible blow to the internet all around, but ensuring your website offers world-class user experience can help prevent the worst from happening to your business and to your users.
- Improve SEO at all costs. Page speed is everything and will become vastly more important once internet providers downshift load times. Along with speed, valuable content containing relevant keywords and online reviews will continue to drive SERP results. Without SEO, your pages will not rank well and people will not take the time to sift through several pages of results given reduced load times.
- Reconsider your pricing strategy. The death of net neutrality will disproportionately impact low-income internet subscribers—many people will need to purchase a more expensive internet plan from their ISP in order to continue using services like Netflix or Hulu, most of which are already paid subscriptions themselves. Thinking about how your services’ pricing might need to change in this new environment to support users who suddenly need to pay more will help prevent a drop-off in subscribers or customers.
Because regardless of what Verizon or Comcast decides to favor or block, users will seek out great experiences and great content however they can. It’s just a matter of getting in front of them.
Changes to internet access hopefully won’t change overnight, however, subtle tweaks will be made by internet providers in the coming weeks and months to test the waters and push boundaries of what consumers experience. Net neutrality provided security for our civilization’s best and largest platform for free speech and free access to knowledge, and its removal jeopardizes the ability to contribute and be seen without bias. Taking the necessary steps to compete with new deregulation and removal of consumer protections should be among your company’s digital initiatives going into 2018.
Punchkick wholeheartedly supports a free and open web. Questions? Punchkick would love to chat more about how to combat the end of #NetNeutrality.