US Net Neutrality – What Does it Mean for Online Retailers?

For those of us in the UK, the subject of net neutrality is one that has largely passed us by, but if you are a retailer that sells into the US marketplace, either through servers in Europe or in the USA, then its something work taking notice of.  As net neutrality effects you at the network level, its effects remain the same regardless of if you drive traffic to the site through PPC, social or SEO.


What is net neutrality?

Put briefly, net neutrality is the idea that all information that passes through the public parts of the internet should move at roughly the same rate.  Obviously, there have always been modems and end-user systems that have prioritised live applications, such as Skype, to ensure a better user experience, but these have been small scale and designed to improve the user experience by limiting dropouts and buffering for example.

Ending net neutrality is different. It will allow the communications carrier to let companies pay to be prioritised, leading to faster loading times and more responsiveness from sites that offer to pay the communications companies for faster access.


What did the net neutrality protections prevent?

Net neutrality is a common core of the internet and has existed since its creation.  In the USA, the rule was given protection by rules enacted by the administration of President Barack Obama in 2015. These prohibited internet providers from charging more for certain content or from giving preferential treatment to certain websites.

The rules prohibited:

  • BLOCKING Internet service providers could not discriminate against any lawful content by blocking websites or apps.
  • THROTTLING Service providers could not slow the transmission of data because of the nature of the content, as long as it was legal.
  • PAID PRIORITISATION Service providers could not create an internet fast lane for companies and consumers who paid premiums, and a slow lane for those who didn’t.

With the repeal of these protections in the USA on Monday 11th, June broadband providers are no longer prevented from carrying out these changes to basic services


What could the repeal of net neutrality mean for online stores?

This could mean that US broadband companies could start offering tiered access, that only offers access to selected sites at a discounted rate.  This would have the effect of removing many e-commerce stores – particularly ones with a small but significant US presence from the internet connections of many potential customers.

It also means that social media spend and retargeting ad campaigns become more tricky to value, as the exposure to the messages may decrease. It could also mean that social messages may be seen via the social media site, but interaction with the customer’s site (such as a landing page, could be blocked or slow.

For other retailers, it could mean that they are stuck in a slow lane with increased load times for customers, which again could lower the potential for sales.


When will the end of net neutrality bring change?

We have yet to see the emergence of these tiers, but as the three largest internet services providers in the USA and their trade body spent $26 million dollars in just 8 months on lobbying efforts to end net neutrality, you can bet that Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, will be moving to introduce new products (and speed upgrades for website who pay) very soon indeed.


DOM Marketing will be keeping an eye on the development as they affect SEO, PPC and social media advertising.  Stay with us for more updates as the situation becomes clearer.