Net Neutrality in USA

The Effect of Net Neutrality’s Repeal on B2B Marketing

Throughout the infancy of the commercial internet in the 1990s and well into its adolescence in the 2000s, the web has pretty much remained a free and open source of information. In fact, prior to February 2015 when the FCC voted to reclassify ISPs as public utilities, internet providers operated in much the same way they do under the current framework – that is, data has, for the most part, been treated equally.

However, with the advent of high definition streaming video, combined with more people using the internet than ever before, ISPs have become increasingly frustrated with the amount of bandwidth required for these services. This, coupled with the fact that most major ISPs offer their own proprietary streaming services, culminated in the introduction of individual monthly data caps on consumers. But it has not stopped there.

History of Net Neutrality in USA

Opponents of net neutrality argue that prior to the 2015 FCC ruling, the internet was much the same as it is now. Data was treated equally and ISPs did not throttle traffic or pick winners and losers across the web. A quick Google search, however, quickly disproves this. ISPs have been attempting to prioritize or block traffic dating as far back as 2005, when Comcast was caught secretly blocking peer-to-peer traffic over networks such as BitTorrent and Gnutella (Oh Gnutella… the memories!)

Or how about between 2011 and 2013 when AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon blocked Google Wallet because it was competing with their own mobile payment system, ISIS. (Yes, I’m not kidding, they named their service ISIS)

While most of these attempts were met with significant backlash or ruled to be illegal, powerful ISPs have been lobbying congress for years to allow them. There are countless more examples of these practices, and if net neutrality is repealed on December 14, this practice will become not only legal, but normal.

What the Death of Net Neutrality means for B2B Marketing

So, what does the death of net neutrality mean for B2B marketing? Well, it’s hard to say exactly. What I can offer is some insight into current trends in the industry and how those trends may be affected by the dismantling of these regulations.

Content Marketing

Visual content has long been a staple of tradition B2C marketing, but in the last few years, B2B has quickly caught up with this trend. The great thing about content marketing is that it’s value is completely derived from the value it brings to the user. Content is king when the playing field is level. But what happens when end-user value is no longer the sole ranking metric? The ROI of content marketing will decrease. Although we don’t know for sure how ISPs will take advantage of their new found freedom to play God on the internet, we can make some assumptions:

  • Powerful brands could leverage their resources to get better exposure.
  • Less powerful brand’s content will not be able to compete with the content of bigger brands that are able to pay for prioritization.
  • End-user experience is almost guaranteed to decline with steeper fees and slower connections

Influencer Marketing

Another industry trend that has really gained steam in 2017 for B2B marketers has been influencer marketing. For those unaware, influencer marketing is a strategy that focuses on identifying people who have influence over potential buyers, and leveraging their knowledge and reach to promote brand awareness. This too, could see significant changes with the repeal of net neutrality.

Many, if not most B2B influencers are relatively unknown people to the general public. They are people who command respect within their usually small and focused niche. The net neutrality-less world could mean much less reach for these industry influencers, whose followers now may have to deal with longer load times or less visibility. Often, brands who employ influencers not only gain sales directly, but also gain improved search rankings for their own sites due to influencer links. If influencer visibility declines, so too will these benefits, and this could noticeably impact any company’s success.

An American Perspective

The truth is, all digital marketers should be concerned with the impact this repeal could have on their business and industry strategies. The bottom line is this: The lack of a level playing field on the internet will almost certainly make markets less competitive overall. It is our responsibility as marketers, but even more so as citizens, to protect the free and open internet. It is the single greatest intellectual infrastructure in human history and censorship of any form is utterly unacceptable. If you are a resident of the United States, I urge you to contact your legislators and demand the FCC uphold Title II oversight of ISPs.

Matt McDaniel is a Digital Marketing Specialist for Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Technologies, a supplier, development and service partner for the automotive, civil aviation, mechanical engineering, shipbuilding, food and pharmaceutical, agricultural and construction machinery industries.