Are you in favor of net neutrality? Against it? Maybe you’re neutral about net neutrality simply because you don’t know enough about it! If so, you’re not alone.
The term “net neutrality” has been popping up in the media a lot, ever since the US Supreme Court voted down an FCC proposal in January . But what does net neutrality really mean? What changes are actually taking place online? And what hurdles, if any, will this create for brands trying to reach their audience? Perhaps the biggest challenge when discussing net neutrality is making the connection between how it affects content providers and what it means to the end user. So, let’s review the 4 key concepts you should know about net neutrality.
1). Net neutrality refers to a level playing field for all content providers on the Web.
When I was first introduced to the idea of net neutrality, I took exception to its long-standing, “elevator pitch” definition—“the guiding principles which protect a free and open Internet.”
Is it true? Yes. Accurate? Absolutely! But it seems like there’s a lot missing for such a complex idea. Net neutrality is the idea that the Internet should be a level playing field on which everyone can reach their desired audience—and compete with one another on equal footing. It is predicated on the idea that anyone who understands how the Web works (best practices, SEO, paid search) has an equal opportunity to be visible and accessible to their audience.
2). What’s jeopardizing net neutrality?
The Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year has given the green light for Internet service providers to create a premium “fast-track” bandwidth service to those of us who are generating content online. This creates a scenario where two competing paths exist for content delivery—and you can either opt in to the “fast track,” or rely on the ISP’s “standard” conduit. But those content providers that choose not to opt in to the ISPs’ premium bandwidth risk limited access to their content and slower load times for streaming media like video, audio, and rich user experiences.
It’s imperative that we consider our audience and our ability to stay connected with them. Unfortunately, whether we agree on the principle of net neutrality or not, competing in the marketplace and reaching our audience will come with additional cost.
3). Protecting all content providers benefits the end user, plain and simple.
Ideally, net neutrality should be a household topic of discussion. However, the focus early on to educate policy makers and content providers hasn’t really helped to gain support from a largely apathetic population of end users who still deserve an explanation as to how this affects them indirectly. The real issue here is that, with or without net neutrality, our livelihood as content providers is built on the promise of maintaining a connection with end users. Our hurdles will become their hurdles.
Content providers are all offering something—whether it’s education, support, a product, or even just entertainment. We all take great pains to target our audiences, learn about their habits, and optimize the channels through which we deliver content to them—all in an effort to make our content as accessible as possible.
So, how do we confront the pressure to continue meeting the same levels of support that our audiences have come to expect? Perception is everything. And if our audience begins to feel that they are being left behind in any way, then it may as well be true. It’s important to maintain the same level of support for our end users that they have come to expect.
4). Despite recent setbacks, net neutrality is not a lost ideology.
How do we protect our access to audiences when we’re facing a two-tier delivery model? The argument has been made that the Web is more vital to the public’s access of information beyond just communication. This has pushed the FCC to propose an appeal that sanctions the Internet as a public utility.
Reclassifying the Internet as a utility will subject broadband networks to greater regulation. And if this appeal gains enough support, net neutrality may finally be protected.