Almost one year ago, the topic of Net neutrality lit up news channels across the Internet. The Huffington Post headlined, “We’re About to Lose Net Neutrality – And the Internet as We Know It” in November of 2013. Their opinion appears in a one-sentence statement before directing readers to the whole story at Wired stating, “Net neutrality is a dead man walking.” Shortly thereafter, we reported a major story in April of 2014 when Europe signed Net neutrality into law. It was a bold and much-needed decision, a decision and now law that safeguards equal access to all information on the Internal for all people (in Europe).
Here it is October 2014, and we just witnessed huge demonstrations by major companies all in the name of Net neutrality. What exactly is it and what does it (or will it) mean for your content? It’s crucial for you as a website owner to know. Take a look at the latest facts.
Our Need for Speed
Do you remember the first days of the Internet, back when we were all using dial-up connections? Remember that pingy, twangy sound that would blow forth from the speakers as we connected to the Internet via our telephone lines? Better yet, do you remember how freaking slow those connections were? You just might be one of the few who remember thinking it was fast…until DSL and cable Internet service came to pass. Suddenly, we went from mere kilobytes per second to full-fledged megabytes. It was like upgrading from a scooter to a sports car!
Speaking of sports cars, who doesn’t love speed? It doesn’t matter if we’re from America, Canada, the U.K., or Australia. We all love speed. We crave it. And our choice in Internet service backs up the worldwide need for speed.
Every surfer of the World Wide Web wants websites to load and load quickly. In fact, Steve Lohr of The New York Times reports that “an eye blink is just too long [for most users] to wait” when it comes to Web page response. As business owners, marketers, and Webmasters, we know that our website has to have split second responsiveness, otherwise we risk losing the audience before they even catch a glimpse of our content. Here are just a few stats about speed from Lohr’s report:
- If your website is slower than a competitor’s by as little as 250 milliseconds, people will favor the competitor’s website and visit your site less.
- The average user is more willing to wait for a video clip to load versus a search result.
- Four out of five users will click away if a video stalls while loading.
The Net Neutrality Battle
As of Sept. 10, a new push in the Net neutrality battle hit the Internet. According to BattleForTheNet.com, the “what” of the battle on this date included sites across the Internet opting to display an alert with the symbolic “loading” symbol — the so-called “spinning wheel of death.” The idea was to blast a spotlight on a huge call to action for every last one of us Internet users: Push comments to the FCC, Congress, and the White Houses to show support of an Internet Freedom Letter circulated by Sen. Angus King, amongst others.
But what exactly is Net neutrality? It’s been such a trending topic since last year that a great deal of warped opinions and misinformation has unfortunately hit the cyber highway. Sometimes referred to as network or Internet neutrality, Net neutrality is basically a standard. It’s the concept that both Internet service providers and government should treat all data on the Internet equally. Without it, providers and governments could discriminate or charge differentially by:
• Type of attached equipment
• Modes of communication
The World Reach
According to Wikipedia, Chile was the first county to pass Net neutrality legislation in 2010. The legislation prohibits organizations like Facebook and Wikipedia from subsidizing mobile data usage. Most net neutrality laws allow exceptions. For example, in Chili there is an allowance for discrimination in limited conditions, including the prevention of illegal content, malware and spam. In the Netherlands, Net neutrality legislation allows exceptions for legal reasons, congestion, security and spam.
Although various countries are passing neutrality legislation, direct enforcement is a challenge. Many countries lack legislation that directly addresses Net neutrality, instead enforcing neutrality through other laws, such as those designed to prevent anti-competitive practices. This is the current approach of the FCC in the United States, which justifies their indirect enforcement based on compliance with “commercially reasonable” practices.
The global nature of the issue has had a huge impact. Advocates of keeping the Internet neutral include some pretty big online names, such as:
Various consumer advocates, human rights organizations, online companies, and technology companies support a neutral World Wide Web. Individual supports include recognizable names, such as:
• Ben Scott
• Tim Berners-Lee
• Steve Wozniak
• Vinton Cerf
• Lawrence Lessig
• Robert W. McChesney
• Susan P. Crawford
• David Reed
Even President Barack Obama has shown support for ensuring Internet neutrality, even though he has been openly faulted for abandoning his promises. There’s no denying that simply seeing the list of advocates sways people to jump on board with petitioning the U.S. government in passing Net neutrality legislation. But do you really know what you’re backing? Do you know how failure to pass such legislation could impact your content?
A World without Net Neutrality
It’s a scary idea. Once you understand the issue at stake, an Internet void of Net neutrality is terrifying.
If we had to strip the entire issue down to its most exposed state, the entire thing comes down to a very simple concept: Bandwidth availability. Wikipedia’s report on Net neutrality states that Internet traffic has been steadily rising since the early 1990s. As websites evolved into picture-rich presentations and MP3 technology came to the cyber-highway, traffic saw a sharp increase in the mid-1990s subsequently followed by another in 2003 when video streaming and peer-to-peer file sharing become commonplace.
Today we live off media rich websites like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Netflix, Hulu, and others. These graphic intensive, video packed, central attractions on the Web require increasing bandwidth to operate. Without proper Net neutrality legislation in place, nothing will stand in the way of Internet service providers and governments limiting bandwidth availability.
What does this mean?
Think of bandwidth as a concert ticket. Right now, we all have a ticket that puts us in the front row, the area that provides the most desirable experience. Without neutrality, suddenly you can’t get that front row ticket, at least, not unless you’re willing to pay more for it. If you can fork out the cash, good for you, but if you can’t, you’ll never make it to that prime spot again. Suddenly, your experience isn’t a priority because you can’t afford that privilege.
Net Neutrality and Your Content
So what happens if the battle for Net neutrality is lost? Simply put, it’s going to impact your content negatively. That epic content you’ve invested time, money, and untold effort into is suddenly going to be less accessible, and all because it isn’t prioritized above other content! Content will literally become discriminated against in a manner almost completely out of both the business and users’ control.
In short, Internet freedom will be a thing of the past. If Net neutrality doesn’t happen, the Internet as we know it will cease to exist, and it’s likely it will dramatically impact everything from content development and marketing to search engine optimization, trickling all the way to your business and conversion, ultimately changing your revenue. It’s bad news for Internet-based business.
The War Wages On
Known as the “go slow” for a day event, on Sept. 10, numerous U.S. tech firms slowed their websites in protest to a pending federal decision, which if accepted could add fast and slow lanes to the Internet. Big names including Reddit, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Etsy, and Foursquare pledged and performed.
BattleForTheNet.com created an infographic detailing what they were able to record on that day. Thousands of websites across cyberspace and hundreds of thousands of people took concentrated effort to stop America’s largest cable companies and the FCC from slowing down the Internet’s best websites. Here are some of the stats:
• More than two million took action;
• More than 312,000 calls were made;
• More than 2.3 million emails flooded Congress;
• Nearly 800,000 comments were filed to the FCC;
• Since March 1st, 4.7 million comments were filed;
• Net neutrality awareness went viral with over 1.1 million Facebook shares;
• 40,000 websites participated.
If Internet slow lanes are allowed to pass because the battle for neutrality is lost, we’ll see an unprecedented slow down across major websites. Visual examples by Tumblr and Netflix are priceless, not to mention disturbing:
Connecting the Dots
Remember Lohr’s report about speed? Most users click away from websites that take longer than just a few seconds to load. Couple this fact with the Net neutrality issue and you can understand why it’s a battle worth fighting and a war that must be waged around the entire world.
The Internet isn’t a U.S.-only product. It’s not owned by Europe. It isn’t lorded over by Canada. China doesn’t control the cyber highways. No, the Internet has become a global connection.
In the technological age that we live in, our lives are becoming driven by technology. Students don’t visit brick and mortar libraries these days. They find credible sources and research on the Internet. Businesses are no longer limited by the confines of a local storefront. They make international appearances via their cyber storefront. People don’t attend traditional colleges. They participate in online classrooms. And businesses like yours and mine operate every day with limited overhead because we leverage virtual offices.
If Internet slow lanes and active content discrimination become the future of the Internet, we can say good-bye to every last benefit and value built online since the 1990s. We will lose untold freedoms. And from a purely business perspective, a lot of us will likely close up shop because surviving and being seen on the Internet will be all about dollars, not amazing content. It would be a sad day for the user, who wants compelling, engaging, informative, relevant content, and for the business that simply wants to flourish in a fair, equal opportunity environment.
You Are the Only Hope
Sept. 10 was a call to action. It was a day for websites, businesses, and people to go big, be seen, be heard, and stay strong. The problem is we’re up against some big players.
BattleForTheNet.com makes no haste in stating that “the cable lobby is one of America’s most powerful.” You might liken it to standing up against oil companies. They’re big, they’re mean, and they only care about profits.
In order to win the battle for Net neutrality in the United States, every last one of us must keep pushing, and push hard, to win. It’s important to be heard, and to let the FCC, Congress, and the White House know that we will settle for nothing less than a free Internet.
Net neutrality is a global issue that affects everyone. We’ve had a taste of how it could impact our business, the damage it could inflict on our content strategies, and the havoc it could raise for our daily life. For those of us in the United States, here’s a closing thought to ponder:
The American dream has been built on freedom. It is our freedom, our rights, and our access to a land of equal opportunity that has allowed us to be innovative. It’s the backbone supporting our careers and our businesses. If we lose freedom on the Internet, we lose the ability to live the American dream through technology, and as we grow ever more dependent on technology, we could find ourselves losing that dream altogether.
Don’t take Internet freedom for granted. Now is the time to fight for it!