The Removal of Net Neutrality Could Affect the Way Small Businesses Are Valued Online
Net neutrality gave web users equal access to the internet. Equal opportunities to speedy web access allowed businesses to compete on an even field. Small, online businesses were able to reach people from all over the world.
On December 14 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the regulations of 2015 for free and equal internet access. Since then, there have been several speculations as to how this will affect the way users access content on the internet. The truth is, there is no absolute answer to how or when to expect to see a change in internet services.
While many large internet service providers (ISPs) have stated that they do not plan to drastically change their services, the end of net neutrality does leave small businesses vulnerable to several possibilities.
Pay-to-Play for Web Speed
Those who can afford faster web speed will have faster web speed. Those who cannot will simply lag behind. Without regulations enforcing equal speed to websites, ISPs could start charging websites for prioritization.
Paying for website prioritization is different than paying for ad space because rather than paying for space to attract consumers to your company’s site, you are paying for your webpage to load faster than the competition’s site.
For small businesses who rely on web traffic for business, page load time is crucial for keeping consumers on their site. In a 2015 study, researchers found that 57 percent of web users will abandon a site if the page takes longer than three seconds to load. That is a huge loss in potential sales for a small business.
Struggle for Ranking on Search Engines
The speed and accessibility of your website impacts the quality score of your website. The higher the quality score, the better your site ranks on organic search. Most small businesses will not be able to afford the faster internet access that large corporations can afford. The slower load times will cause a small business’s quality score to drop and rank lower on the search engine results page.
Paid marketing can also be affected by the quality score. When you bid to appear for certain search terms in AdWords, your website’s quality score affects how much a business pays for keywords and ad space. The lower the quality score, which is affected by speed, the more you pay per bid. This affects start-up companies looking to get their foot in the door and small businesses trying to compete with corporate giants who can either afford the faster speed or can pay the extra per bid.
There’s no certainty to what the ISPs will decide to do with the deregulations. Many ISPs including Cox and AT&T have already announced that they do not plan to block content, but have remained unclear about providing fast lanes for particular websites.
An internet service provider could significantly slow down websites it views as a threat to its own content or to the content of the companies the internet provider has a partnership with.
The advantage consumers have over their ISPs is their freedom to choose who they choose as their internet provider. If one ISP begins to block content or slow down particular websites, people will simply just switch to a different provider. The diversity in internet providers could be what protects small businesses from falling through the cracks.
Again, nothing is set in stone. The repeal of net neutrality could change absolutely nothing, or it could greatly affect the innovation of starting companies and the way small businesses compete for web traffic.
Ashley Boudreaux is a senior at LSU. She is currently studying Mass Communication and French. In her free time, she enjoys visiting petting zoos and climbing trees.
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