In the late 1990s, the Internet was the future of everything for everyone.
There was nothing out there but hope and a lot of weird personal websites hosted by Geocities. Then the digital marketers came along and started planting seeds. What they grew was an entire ecosystem full of commercial websites, advertising modules and pop-up ads that helped to fuel the technology push that made the graphical web even faster and more capable.
Some of it was good, some of it was bad, but all of it was a step toward what would eventually become an indispensable part of daily life for billions of people. They get up in the morning and check the weather on their smartphones. They read the news on their phone or tablet on the train. They check their messages while they wait in line at the coffee shop in their office building’s lobby. They touch and touch and touch the Internet without even thinking about it. Everyone does, even those once hopeful marketing professionals.
With the FCC’s Net Neutrality repeal, the future of the Internet that marketers helped to build, as well as the place of marketing within it, is uncertain. What’s going to happen to those constant daily touches?
Digital Marketing After Net Neutrality
By now, pretty much everyone knows what was at stake with Net Neutrality, but to briefly recap: Net Neutrality, in a few words, protects everyone’s equal access to the Internet just like any other utility. No provider can charge more or add premiums for accessing certain sites or speed up or slow down access to specific destinations – especially when these behaviors favor their own business or that of an affiliate. That’s the short version, anyway.
Now that the FCC has dismantled Net Neutrality, there’s real fear that any company with a budget smaller than that of the Walmarts and Amazons of the world will suffer significant setbacks in the marketplace. The real effects of Net Neutrality loss start with the crushing of the smallest guys and the startups, the same ones that are often leading innovations in a variety of digital fields. They have to think outside the box because they can’t afford to be inside the box.
Digital marketing could be disrupted in several ways, including:
- Slower server speeds could cause frustration and ad skipping. One of the biggest takeaways is that server speeds may well be affected. This could mean that your ads will be slowed, so no matter how much you optimize them, they’re still going to be frustrating enough that potential leads skip through as soon as possible. Not only will this affect your ROI, it’s going to mess up your metrics, too. That audience might have been spot on, but you’ll never know because of bandwidth throttling.
- Broadband providers may block sites serving ads. It’s impossible to guess how giving providers free reign to do what they will with their service is going to affect the user experience, but it is highly likely that some will choose to block specific sites or types of sites.This has happened before, when it wasn’t legal, and big ISPs were called on it. Now that they can block sites, you can fully expect they will whenever it becomes convenient to boost their business. This may mean that your marketing vehicles aren’t seen by the desired audiences because they literally aren’t allowed to see the site serving up those modules.
- Smaller marketers and advertisers will almost certainly be forced to pay more to compete. If you’re not a Fortune 500 company, you will almost certainly be facing a financial penalty if Net Neutrality is truly allowed to disappear.To simply remain competitive in the digital marketing space, you’ll have to pay for high end access, whether that means paying extra so your ads will be shown at full speed or to all users of a specific ISP remains to be seen, but there is no doubt it will cost you big. It may be a large enough fine that you won’t be able to pay it. Then what? Then there’s nothing. You’re just out of luck.
But Wait, the Net Neutrality Debate Isn’t Over Yet
Don’t panic yet. The debate isn’t over.
Just days after the FCC repealed the Open Internet, several states stepped up to the plate and said, “No more.” California, New York, Washington and Massachusetts were the first to propose bills within their own state governments that would make Net Neutrality the law of the land. These states governments don’t want to find out what happens if Net Neutrality goes away entirely, they’re already fairly certain they know.
Making Net Neutrality a state law is an interesting tactic. It may not work, the FCC has won in cases where state laws and federal laws disagreed before, and the current repeal is worded such that states are not permitted to do essentially what these states are doing, but the state-level legislation shines a spotlight on the problem. Once the Net Neutrality repeal is in the court system, it may be thrown out entirely, or at least modified to be more palatable to everyone involved.
For now, digital marketers would be smart to explore ways to ply their clients’ wares in more cost-effective and efficient ways, including learning how to better use targeting and metrics to measure performance. You have a short window where all is not yet lost, take advantage of it.