The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), on December 14, voted to end net neutrality. Net neutrality is also known as the code that allows all internet consumers access to content equally and without bias. The vote to end net neutrality this week has pushed all related stakeholders into debate, driven by differences in opinion. These opinions concern: its consequences on various parties involved, predicting strategies the stakeholders can use to influence business, and the changing landscape of the internet services industry.
What is Net Neutrality & Who Are the Stakeholders?
Net neutrality enables equal access to consumers from all backgrounds. This makes it unlawful for Internet Service Providers (ISP) to favor organizations that are willing to pay more for their data to be given preferential access. While this seems appealing as it prevents empowering big companies to dominate internet content, some argue that with net neutrality repealed, bigger companies can plan on launching innovative products and services. But, focusing on a targeted audience who are willing to pay more money to get preferential service could negatively impact smaller businesses.
Internet Service Providers (ISP) are organizations such as; Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Spectrum, who connect users to their network to provide internet services to consumers. While ISPs feel consumers won’t notice a change, rallies to repeal net neutrality were very clearly supported by ISPs. Most professionals in the start-up and technology space support net neutrality efforts as fears of higher rates could disrupt the free flow of data. As Entrepreneur puts it, “This idea seems incredibly similar to an old mob tactic where business owners have to pay the mob in order to operate a store in “mob territory.”
How the Vote to Repeal Effects Small Businesses
The internet has enabled businesses to create, operate and deliver online. This is also evidenced in the moving away from traditional B2B or B2C business channels. Small businesses with an online presence could potentially see an immediate impact from the loss of net neutrality. This is because revenue is usually directly dependent upon website traffic. The NY Times says, “smaller businesses fear they may not have a level digital playing field to compete against deep-pocketed industry giants that could pay to get an advantage online.”
Data prioritization enables the “fast lane” idea that has floated around since the vote. This means that ISPs will be able to prioritize content from select sources – determined by price. There is wide expectation that data prioritization is imminent and would be put into operational and supply chain costs. From the increased usage of social media for marketing purposes, to big data being used to streamline procurement, the internet has provided room for technology to add immeasurable value to businesses.
Proponents of net neutrality argue that the vote to repeal will reduce small businesses’ online visibility. This has the potential to not only force small businesses to invest more to maintain current visibility, it gives certain bigger corporations the ability to inflate prices.
Additionally, ISPs generate content themselves, which further calls into question the power handed off to the providers. Remember, ISPs own the responsibility of selecting content that could be provided on the internet to consumers. Obviously, this will come as a welcome task for ISPs interested in favoring their own content over others. We will see the results soon, but self-serving ISPs will certainly be speculated on.
What Does This Mean for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Many content creators are generating content not just based on what viewers read, but also on what they “look for”. Utilizing keywords that an audience has used frequently over a period of recent time is a good starting point to generate content. For this reason, high quality web analytics have changed the business model for successful SEOs.
Keyword density and other factors can increase search traffic quickly. But, what the vote to repeal net neutrality could potentially do, is reverse how content is driving SEO. Kissmetrics says SEO is currently primarily about content marketing. But, data prioritization could potentially include promotion of data and information owned by major players with the ability to pay more. Thereby, reducing traffic on websites that might not be able to dedicate additional capital to increase visibility.
Another impact the vote could have is on content freshness – a cornerstone of SEO according to SearchEngineLand. Keyword trends can force specific keywords to be refreshed by Google due to increasing popularity. In these instances, when certain keywords increase their number of search queries, new content generated on these keywords can be prioritized. Now, however, maintaining freshness of content could become harder as ISPs will have the ability to restrict its content. This would likely include limited players or themselves, thus reducing the supply of high quality new content being demanded from consumers.
Internet service providers have commented on the issue and some have reassured consumers that no significant change will be experienced. But, concerns over data monitoring and data security have been expressed and will certainly be a growing topic of debate. SEO experts generally agree the impact on small businesses will be key in determining its long-term acceptance. We believe that this topic must be monitored closely over the coming months and years to ensure negative impacts on SEO are identified and overcome. We will continue to keep you posted as more information is made available.
If you are a small business owner, or work for a small business, you must pay attention to this issue. Unfortunately, we are seeing a shift in opportunity across the playing field with policies like these. From an expanding startup and small business environment, to the largest multinational corporations, the shift in internet capabilities is about to change. So what can you do? One way to fight back as a small business owner is to contact your local elected officials and voice your concern. Also, you can follow along with protesters and tech industry leaders who support the movement know as “Break the Internet.”
Author: Ivan Reed
Ivan Reed is the CEO of SunCity Advising. His background includes SEO, Web Design, Branding & Technical Marketing. His client portfolio includes successful partnerships with startups, small businesses, medium-sized firms & large corporations.
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