Net Neutrality has been a topic of vigorous debate in recent times. But none more so than last week, when the FCC unveiled plans to scrap the legislation enacted in 2015 that requires internet service providers in the U.S. to treat all web traffic equally.
In case you’re not familiar with the concept of Net Neutrality, here’s a general definition from Wikipedia:
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.
For instance, under these principles, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.
The regulation, if repealed, is set to give more power to the oligopoly of major internet service providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.
Whilst there’s a general consensus amongst information activists and free speech advocates that ending net neutrality is likely to adversely affect the general public, it looks as though marketers, businesses and startups might have a legitimate cause for concern too.
From what I’ve read on the subject, it seems as though most major marketing publications agree that abolishing Net Neutrality is a bad idea, for a variety of reasons.
The Drum published an article that curated the opinions of various digital and communication experts across a number of industries.
Some of the arguments against dismantling Net Neutrality include:
- Abolishing Net Neutrality would consolidate power for the major ISPs in a market that’s already dominated by just a handful of names. This would inevitably discourage competition from challenger ISPs.
- Data accuracy also becomes a problem when it comes to analytical reporting. In a digital environment where Net Neutrality doesn’t exist, adverts may load up at varying speeds – causing a disruption to data metrics.
- An absence of Net Neutrality could create barriers to entry for startups that cannot afford to pay for the premium bandwidth that their larger counterparts can. This, in turn, runs the risk of stifling innovation.
You’d be forgiven for assuming that the only party set to benefit from the removal of Net Neutrality is the ISPs themselves. However, John Barker, founder of BARKER ad agency, thinks that the ISPs are the ones who lose out in the long term.
‘Ironically, I think the biggest losers in the long run will be the cable and telecom giants who derive the immediate benefit from overturning net neutrality. Any time you become greedy or cynical toward consumers, you become a target for disruption. So some entrepreneur will roll out free national Wi-Fi, and it’s game over.’
Despite all of the panic, marketing and technology consultant Shelly Palmer thinks there’s a silver lining in the disposal of Net Neutrality for agencies, advertisers and marketers.
‘This could be a perfect opportunity to pair programmatic creative with programmatic media buying. There will be hundreds of different rate plans targeted at specific cohorts. There will also be opportunities to create new consumer and brand experiences that include “unlimited” bandwidth or “free” bandwidth offers.’
So far, it isn’t certain what the future looks like for marketers in the absence of Net Neutrality. But one thing is for sure – the decision is likely to affect us all.
The FCC is set to vote on December 14th – and it will be interesting to see how brands react to the debate, both before and after the decision.
I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled.