As many of you know, last month the Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines (3-2) to repeal Obama era rules regarding net neutrality. This was a source of some discussion in many online groups, including my own Eyecare Marketing Forum on Facebook. People were asking what does net neutrality mean both personally as a user of the internet as well as professionally, will it have any impact on my website and my business. The long answer is complicated and as of yet uncertain. The short answer to both questions is, Yes.
Net neutrality is the promise that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will treat all internet traffic the same. Who is your ISP? It could be any one of hundreds of companies, but more than likely, one or more of these names are among the bills you pay every month:
- Charter Spectrum
- Cable One
- US Cellular
In the early days of the internet, there was very little talk of prioritizing traffic as the amount of traffic was relatively small compared to what we use now. The streaming of movies, TV shows, music, games, and so on are a relatively new phenomenon and with this increase in the amount of data we consume, as well as the ability to segment and prioritize that traffic, the rumblings that ISPs wanted to treat some traffic as a priority began to be discussed. The Obama FCC, voted narrowly to create regulatory law that prevented this prioritization, keeping the internet pretty much as we knew it.
With the election of Donald Trump and the change of agency heads from Democratic control to Republican control, net neutrality once again became an issue, and on December 14th, the FCC voted to scrap the previous regulatory rules in favor of a freer internet. This means your ISP can prioritize, if not force you to use Bing over Google (not that I would ever bet on that, but it is an easy to understand example). It means that Comcast could once again decide Netflix is too much of a strain on the Comcast network and Comcast could, therefore “throttle” Netflix (slow the network way down) as they did in 2014 before the Obama rules took effect. Using this Comcast example, they could either raise a giant middle finger to Netflix forever, or, much more likely, force you to pay for an enhanced Internet package that allowed Netflix to better stream into your home, raising your monthly Internet bill. In essence, the scrapping of net neutrality can create fast lanes and slow lanes on the information superhighway.
It has been suggested that soon enough Internet packages will become as complicated as cable TV packages. Whether you support this lifting of government rules is up to you. Here is where it could have a very large effect on your business, however.
SEO And Net Neutrality
You have a website for your business/practice. Maybe it was built last month, Maybe last year, maybe 10 years ago. Whatever work you have put into your website towards local SEO can all be upended by someone with a lot of money paying to prioritize their website over yours. It doesn’t matter that you have put energy and effort into building a wonderfully compelling website with lots of blog posts and links and information for prospective customers and patients. An online eyeglass giant can strike a deal with AT&T (for example) to present their website over yours for every search. You could very well be the number one site in your community for eye exams or eyeglasses today, but perhaps not for long.
This sort of unregulated prioritization at this point is strictly hyperbole at this moment, but without some sort of federal net neutrality regulation, this sort of thing could very well happen. The internet could very well become pay for play.
You could very well say you and your business will not be held for ransom. I agree with your sentiment. However, your customers, present or future, won’t know you are “fighting the man” as to them you will just fade away while some national giant takes your place in the minds and wallets of your customers and patients.
Yes, I am sharing a more dystopian and dark view of what will happen in the coming months and years ahead. Perhaps very little will change. Perhaps a lot. We as an industry, however, need to keep our eyes open and should we see our businesses lose out to those willing to pay ISP’s for our customers, be willing to write our elected representatives to try and get them to reverse this decision and implement the equal treatment of all legal internet activities.