In December 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3 to 2 to repeal former President Barack Obama-era rules governing how internet service providers (ISPs) deliver content to users. These net neutrality rules prevented broadband and wireless providers from showing preferential treatment for certain companies, websites, and content by throttling speeds up or down, charging more, or even blocking certain content or providers. It’s a complex issue that likely will not have a drastic impact on publishers in the short-term, but publishers need to understand the possible ramifications and how they can start preparing now for potential impacts to the content delivery landscape.
Is net neutrality really dead?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially published the order to rescind net neutrality on Feb. 22, 2018. This paves the way for state government leaders and advocacy group members to file lawsuits in their attempts to block the measure from taking effect. The FCC publication also marks the start of a 60-day deadline for Congress to vote on overturning the ruling. This is unlikely, considering it requires a majority in the Republican-held House, even though Democratic Senators claim they have the backing of at least 50 senators.
In the meantime, several state governments have introduced bills to prevent ISPs from blocking or slowing down websites or online services for their users. Lawmakers say the law would “ensure that consumers would find the content of the choice, maintain a diversity of voices online and protect businesses from having to pay fees to reach users.” And a lobbying group representing several large technology companies — including Facebook, Google, and Netflix — plans to join the lawsuits. According to The New York Times, broadband companies are “likely to proceed cautiously pending final resolution of these legal challenges,” and internet customers probably won’t see significant differences in their services, at least for a while.
But if net neutrality really does become a thing of the past, it likely could impact publishers, content providers, and advertisers. For example, AT&T could charge Netflix more to deliver traffic to its website or streaming app, or ISPs that partner with media companies could give priority bandwidth to their partner websites over those associated with rival media companies. This would hinder consumers’ abilities to access content and has the potential to affect advertising spend and ad rates as well.
What can publishers do?
It’s difficult to predict just what impact the loss of net neutrality could have on the internet in general or on magazine publishers’ websites in particular. But publishers can act to mitigate any potential negative effects.
- Budget for higher internet costs. The ability for ISPs to charge certain companies with specific types of content more for faster online delivery could impact publishers’ bottom lines. Publishers in smaller companies and startups could be hit especially hard. Decide how to adjust your budget to accommodate, speak to your internet provider about possible changes, be prepared to switch providers if necessary, and consult with an expert about ways to reduce your internet presence costs.
- Revisit your content strategy. Make sure your content is meeting readers’ needs so, if they need to start paying more to access your content, they will be more likely to do so. Diversify your offerings to continue piqueing their interest. Video, interactive content, and mobile editions may cost more to deliver than static content, so analyze the costs and benefits of moving your content offline or to less bandwidth-intensive delivery options. Try to minimize content load times to avoid alienating readers.
- Build reader loyalty. Reader engagement inspires loyalty, and loyal readers are less likely to jump ship if costs go up or content delivery slows. Build relationships through excellent content, social media interactions, or subscriber perks. Meet your readers in person at conferences and trade shows. Host events, seminars, and classes to educate readers in new areas and technologies.
Don’t wait to find out how the loss of net neutrality will affect your business. Stay current with what’s going on and be prepared by adjusting your operations and strategies now to stay ahead of and mitigate any possible negative effects.