In the UK, the discussion about net neutrality continues, but now it is becoming more obvious what the impact of non-net neutrality could have on businesses.
The main argument for net neutrality is that users should be allowed to view whatever content they choose, and Internet Service Providers should not be allowed to ‘prioritise’ traffic to certain sites, particularly if they are doing so to improve their own business case or revenue streams.
This week, at a debate on Net Neutrality at Westminster eForum, two of the big ISPs (BT and TalkTalk) admitted that they would prioritise traffic for a specific company if paid to do so.
Traffic shaping is an essential part of running a network, especially when peer-to-peer traffic can swamp your network resources if permitted to run unchecked. However, this admission that ISPs would have no problems with prioritising access to one company’s website or content over another’s should begin to ring alarm bells for businesses.
There is a big difference between prioritising ALL voice traffic over all peer to peer traffic at busy times, versus prioritising BT VoIP over Skype (as an example). Let’s take this further.
There are certain highly competitive sectors online, e.g. financial (mortgages, loans, banking). Imagine if you are one of the competitors for that sector, spending considerable sums on PPC and online marketing. No matter what you do, your traffic stats begin to show a decline in visitor numbers; not because your campaign isn’t working, but because one of your competitors has paid a major ISP to prioritise their traffic over yours, and everyone else in the sector.
The Internet has never been a level playing field per se, but this additional level of “Money talks” could distort that level playing field considerably. It could have an adverse effect on the many smaller companies who have come to rely on the Internet giving them the opportunities to compete with the big boys. It also means that you could lose a percentage of your present and future clientele just because they are with the ‘wrong’ ISP. And your potential customers may never know what they are missing, because traffic shaping and non Net neutrality is invisible to the end user, although its effects can clearly be felt.
Whilst monetising networks is essential for investment in the future infrastructure which will be required to ensure the next generation of applications and services can be delivered, enhancing revenue streams by deciding what your customers ‘want’ has to be considered as a backward step.
For an Internet marketing agency, this is a worrying development, meaning new strategies will need to be developed to overcome this. And if you are a business, and have ignored the Net neutrality debate in the UK and EU to date, perhaps it is time to sit up and take more notice of the potential consequences of allowing this practice to continue development unchecked?