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How the Net Neutrality Debate Could Affect Your Web Marketing

With so much happening in the news, it’s easy to lose sight of net neutrality, a distinctly unsexy-sounding issue—but this is one that could directly affect your bottom line. Net neutrality is essential to your online marketing efforts, and it’s under attack.

First of all: What is net neutrality? Net neutrality is a policy that requires internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all data on the internet equally. If you’re a consumer, it means that your ISP can’t limit what websites you can access or charge you more for different tiers of access. On the flip side, if you’ve got a website, net neutrality guarantees that—theoretically, anyway—your content has just as much potential to be seen by customers as, say, Amazon’s.

The current net neutrality law restricts three practices: blocking, which means making legal content inaccessible; throttling, which means intentionally slowing down some content or speeding up others; and paid prioritization, the practice of favoring sites that pay more. Factors like SEO, page loading speed, and frequency of content updates will, of course, affect where your site lives when it comes to search rankings. But without net neutrality, a consumer might not be able to access your content at all—unless you paid more.

A little background on net neutrality: In 2015, the FCC voted to classify consumer broadband service as a public utility under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, so that it could be regulated like electricity or phone services. But in May, the FCC voted two to one to roll back that law. The change has not yet taken effect.

Big companies would survive the rollback; after all, they could easily pay to make sure consumers see their content first, and that their pages load more quickly than their competitors’. But even internet giants like Amazon, Google and Netflix have objected, saying that after the rollback, ISPs would have too much control over people’s access to online content. Smaller companies would find a very uneven playing field, which could stifle innovation and make it very hard for new businesses to gain a foothold. The only entities that would truly benefit from the change would be the ISPs.

Online marketing—and content marketing in particular—would be another casualty of the Title II rollback. Instead of creating useful, interesting content with the potential to go viral, companies’ only viably marketing strategy would be dumping massive amounts of money into their ISPs for the privilege of connecting with customers. Paid search, SEO, and social media marketing are useless if ISPs control access.

More than 10 million comments have been filed at the FCC in regard to the rollback; the vast majority were sent in opposition to the proposal. In fact, polls show that favorable opinions about net neutrality cross party lines: 73 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of independents favor net neutrality.

As always, we’re watching our industry sources and will continue to bring you updates and strategies for adjusting to this and other changes in the digital landscape.