JULY 6, 2018

Back in the year 2000 an action movie about a car thief forced to steal 50 luxury cars in one night to save the life of his brother was titled “Gone In 60 Seconds”. If for whatever reason someone in 2018 were to make a movie about how long mobile device users are willing to wait for a website to load, they could title it “Gone in 3 Seconds”. Because according to a September 2016 report by the Google-owned company DoubleClick, it was found that 53 percent of mobile device users will give up on a website that takes more than three seconds to load. Yep that’s right, three seconds.

But unfortunately for literally thousands of small businesses, longer load times could potentially become the norm if the FCCs decision which effectively ended Net Neutrality in April of 2018, is not overturned. The reason being is that many small businesses simply don’t have the financial bandwidth that will be needed to enable their websites to have the fastest load times.

So what exactly is, or more accurately, what exactly was Net Neutrality anyway and how did it impact small business?  According to Wikipedia, Net Neutrality, aka Open Internet, is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs)  treat all data on the internet equally, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. Under these principles, Internet Service Providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down, favorably or inequitably speed up or charge money for specific websites and online content. Prior to the repeal of Net Neutrality, there have been instances of companies getting their hands slapped for violating some of these rules. Here are a few examples:

  • In 2012 AT&T was said have have violated Net Neutrality rules by limiting access to FaceTime so only those users who paid for AT&T’s new shared data plans could access the application.
  • And in 2004, the Madison River Communications company was fined US$15,000 by the FCC, in 2004, for restricting their customers’ access to Vonage, which was rivaling their own services.
  • In July 2017, Verizon Wireless was accused of throttling (intentionally slowing down or speeding up the internet service an ISP provides) after users noticed that videos played on Netflix and YouTube were slower than usual.

** Verizon contended that it was conducting “network testing” and that Net Neutrality rules permit “reasonable network management practices”

The benefit of Net Neutrality for small business meant that ISPs could not intentionally slow the website speed of a particular business that opted not go with that ISP’s higher priced, premium or business-level service offering. And for consumers, it meant essentially the same thing – that, if for instance, you’re a fan of Netflix, Net Neutrality dictates that one should be able to watch the shows one wants to on Netflix without running into impediments their ISP puts up that are designed to push them towards a competing service, like Hulu.

There is another element of Net Neutrality’s rollback that could have impacts for all internet users, but specifically negative ones for small businesses in particular, Paid Prioritization or internet fast lanes. Simply put, an internet fast lane or paid prioritization is where one person’s data travelling on an ISP’s network gets priority delivery over another person’s data delivery – and this priority or faster delivery happens for a fee. This prioritization can also include higher and better quality of the data that is delivered…critically important when considering video & audio streaming and gaming. A helpful way to think about fast lanes is by visualizing cars on a multi-lane highway where one of the lanes can only be used if you pay a toll. The toll lane only becomes attractive because the other lanes are too slow, or the surfaces are too pot-holed compared to the smooth paid toll road (quality). However the huge difference with the internet is that the ISP can actually slow down the traffic to make someone else’s go faster and have a better experience. For consumers, this could be an irritant, but for small business owners this actually could threaten the continuance of their business.

As mentioned earlier, one of the more widespread concerns of the rollback is the ability for ISP’s (more likely the larger corporations) to throttle web traffic to ISP startups or ISP-competitors. This would allow more dominant companies, such as larger scale web firms or more established companies that are partners or subsidiaries, to get priority speed.

As many companies already know site-speed play a pretty big role in Google’s search rankings. As a result, small businesses fear that if their site unknowingly begins getting throttled or slowed down by certain providers, it will kill their ranking and there’s nothing they can do to change it.

Throttling or the slowing down of site-speed comes at an especially high risk for video marketing companies who rely on speed to show videos with limited interruptions and buffering. While larger companies may be able to pay the prioritization costs, it will likely be the small business, Mom & Pops, and startups who do not have the financial bandwidth to do so,  who will be at risk of having yet another disadvantage as compared to much larger competitors.

So what can a small business do? While it’s still early and not all of the implications, good or bad, of Net Neutrality’s rollback are known, what small business can do is what they have hopefully been doing all along anyway. And that is talking directly to their customers, clients, and prospects in relevant, respectful and meaningful ways, and ensuring that the experience their customers have whenever they engage with their business always exceeds their customer’s expectations regardless of whenever and wherever they engage…regardless of however long it takes them to get there.  At Black Rhino Marketing Group, we ensure that that happens for our clients!