Image source: Battleforthenet.com
Did you notice anything strange on Wednesday, 10th September? Maybe spinning objects kept appearing before your eyes? Were you inundated with messages asking you to contact your congressman as a matter of urgency? Don’t worry, we weren’t under attack from outer space, you were merely experiencing the Internet slowdown.
Have you ever stopped to think about how important the Internet is? It’s changed the way we communicate with each other, and the way we buy our goods. It’s also changed the way that smart businesses attract and retain customers. Is your advertising budget spent on pieces of paper, or ads on television or radio? If you want to attract the millennial generation, you’re much better off attracting them with up to date blogs, or exciting and content rich articles. Put simply, the Internet has revolutionized business in a way that would have been unimaginable just 20 years ago.
Yes, we sure have a lot to thank the Internet for, and it’s only going to keep on getting better and better, or is it? The Internet slowdown was a coordinated attempt by some of the web’s biggest players to highlight plans by the FCC that could have a devastating effect on the Internet as a whole. So what was the Internet slowdown, what are they protesting about, and what effect could it have on your business and your content? It’s a battle over net neutrality, so let’s put our tin hats on and head on out to the front line.
1. What Is Net Neutrality?
The Internet slowdown was essentially about net neutrality, and what some companies saw as an attack upon it. Neutrality isn’t something we’d normally get excited about. Think of neutrality and you think of Switzerland. They had 500 years of neutrality and all they came up with was the cuckoo clock and cheese with holes in it. I’m tipping my hat to Orson Welles there of course, but the point I’m making is that maybe we shouldn’t think of net neutrality, with the negative context that brings, but net freedom?
It’s the concept that federal governments shouldn’t interfere with what’s traveling along the Internet highway, but should instead let the content providers regulate themselves. Many content providers say that this allows everyone a fair playing field, and encourages innovation and development. This in turn helps the end user, as well as businesses who use the net for advertising and promotion.
2. What Exactly Is the FCC Proposing?
The Federal Communication Commission has proposed radical changes to the way that the Internet is operated within the United States. The main thrust of their proposal is that ISPs (Internet service providers) will be allowed more power and flexibility to charge what they like to content providers who use the ISP. What do I mean by content providers? Well, just about everybody. Netflix, Digg, Vimeo, Etsy, Kickstarter and Reddit are just some of the companies who have been vociferous in their criticism. It also affects us. It affects you, if you have a blog or business website. And, of course you do.
Under the FCC proposals the ISPs would be able to charge these content companies to provide faster access to their content. If you have enough bucks, you’ll be able to jump the queue. There’s nothing more irritating than waiting at the back of a departure lounge, while a handful of priority passengers walk smugly on board the plane. That’s what could be about to happen to the Internet. The fear is, of course, that this new Internet fast lane will inevitably create an Internet slow lane, and lead to the end of net neutrality as we know it.
3. Is the Net Neutral Outside of the United States?
The USA isn’t the first country, or group of countries, to grapple with this controversial concept. The European Union looked at this issue earlier this year, and eventually decided to enshrine the concept of European net neutrality in their law. European ISPs had lobbied the decision makers in the same way that American service providers have been, arguing that the new restrictive rules would impact on creativity and Internet growth. The ISPs didn’t explain how rules that guaranteed equal and indiscriminate access to the Internet could be regarded as ‘restrictive’, but then Europe is the continent that gave us George Orwell and his ‘newspeak’.
The EU have effectively made it illegal to create Internet fast and slow lanes in Europe, but most of the world’s Internet traffic comes via the United States. Don’t think that you’re safe because your business is based in Berlin, London, Tokyo, Sidney or anywhere. If the FCC proposals are enacted, Internet traffic across the globe will be affected.
4. How the Internet Slowdown Could Have Affected Your Content
The Internet slowdown was a well-planned attempt to raise awareness of the effects that a long-term slowdown could bring. The sites involved showed what a slowdown would look like, by including images of the ‘page loading’ symbols across their pages. Whilst they were not seeking to slow their services down for the day, some people did feel that their content access was slower than it usually was. Did it affect you? If so, the effectiveness of your content could have been compromised.
We live in a fast paced world, and people want things to happen immediately, whenever they want it. This applies especially to web content. People hate to be sat waiting for pages to load up. That’s time that could be spent doing something useful, like having a cappuccino, or perfecting a minecraft strategy. Web content and blogs are a great marketing tool, but if your content becomes too slow, no one will want to read it. Just think of all the hard work spent putting your thoughts into words, only to see it shunted down the Internet priority list to make way for more videos of cats riding Roombas.
5. Have We Had an Internet Slowdown Before?
So what’s new about Internet slowdown, I hear you say, we’ve had slow traffic days for years? That’s true, but it was largely due to intermittent attacks from malicious sources. These are often called denial of service attacks, where hackers bombard prominent websites with so much information that their servers can’t cope, and slow down. A huge attack can affect the Internet as a whole.
One such cyber attack happened in March 2013, and its effects were felt by businesses of all sizes. As Internet traffic became so slow that it was practically unusable, consumers had to take an enforced break from their usual browsing activity. The difference this time, is that future slow downs may not result from malicious sources, or cyber terrorists, but as a result of legislation from the US government itself.
6. Is Net Neutrality Relevant to Your Business?
If net neutrality is compromised, power will lie firmly in the hands of the big ISPs. They won’t just control how fast individual websites are to access, they could also control what content is displayed at all. Take this scenario: an ISP has a major client who distributes and sells gasoline. Your company has a new concept for greener cars that will use less, or no, gas. The ISP may decide it’s in their interests to make your content as slow as possible. Your content could effectively be broken if it doesn’t comply with what the ISP wants the public to hear.
7. Why Should I Worry About Content Providers Being Charged?
So what if big companies like Netflix have to pay more to have a reasonable speed for their content, how does that affect you? Small to medium businesses could be amongst those most affected. Could you afford to pay a premium to ensure that your web content was available at anything other than a slow speed? If not, an advantage has just been handed to the bigger companies that can afford it. Start up businesses in particular could find it hard to compete.
8. Is Speed Really That Important?
Would you rather ride a Harley Davidson or a 50cc moped? Do you like the express train to work, or would you choose to go on one that stops ten times along the way? People will always opt for the fastest and most convenient choice. You could have something incredible to announce, such as how you’ve invented shoes with a retractable heel that can be worn all evening long, or something really useful to tell people, such as giving them 10 facts about the Internet slowdown, but if your site’s too slow to access then you may as well not bother.
9. Why the Internet Is Essential For Your Business
Could your business remain unaffected by a widespread Internet slowdown? If so, then you’re probably not doing enough to utilize its power at the moment. Creating attractive, interesting and mobile-friendly content is the best way to get your product noticed by the modern consumer.
Statistics show that there are now over 190 million digital shoppers in the United States, and this figure continues to grow. Your main priority should be to attract these digital shoppers to your brand. Using websites, blogs and articles can be the most effective way to achieve this, but will your content be left lagging behind by the FCC driven Internet slowdown?
10. How to Fight Back Against Slower Internet Speeds
So now you know all about the Internet slowdown, except how to combat it. One way to do this is by shopping around for the best Internet Service Provider. Contact your ISP and ask them if they plan to introduce a two-lane Internet service. Tell them what you’ll do if that happens, but try to keep profanities to a minimum.
You should also keep in mind that quality content will still be king. High quality, relevant and up to date content is still more likely to feature highly in Google results pages. If your web content is slower than your competitor’s web content, your SERP position could be the only weapon you have left. Use it wisely.
Create that high quality web content, climb the rankings, and fight back against slow Internet speeds.