Net Neutrality, SEO and Internet Marketing Hit by DoJ

Net Neutrality has added another formidable opponent to its already large list, with the US Justice department issuing a filing with the Federal Communications Commission against Net Neutrality. This could potentially be big news for bloggers, Search Engine Optimization consultants and all those in the internet marketing industry.

Net Neutrality is the principle that all web sites be accessible to surfers for the same cost. The telecommunications industry is lobbying the US government to enact legislation allowing it to charge more for people to surf certain websites, or even certain forms of content.

There are two main reasons why Net Neutrality matters, and why this filing is bad news for the internet marketing industry. First of all, Net Neutrality means that a blogger with a critical opinion of some big telecom industry could easily see access to his website made prohibitively expensive. Or on a similar train of thought, if he outranks some telecom portal for a lucrative keyword, the telecom could make accessing his site more expensive than accessing its own portal.

In effect, it gives the telecom industry the right to affect the cost of doing business of anyone with a website.

In the offline world, this is the equivalent of letting your telecoms provider add a bunch of figures to the expenses column in your accountant’s books! In simple terms, this gives telecoms the right to censor web sites and web content they don’t care for in fact, if not in theory (theoretically you could always pay some exorbitant price if you reaaaally want to surf that site).

Second of all, if Net Neutrality is lost, then SEOs can find themselves and their analytics providers – I can hardly think of a more crucial element of the internet marketing industry – being priced out of the market by ISPs who also sell webdesign, ecommerce and internet marketing services.

I know that Bell has huge ads for its ecommerce offerings in the local yellow pages, and – big coincidence – they’re also a major ISP here in Montreal. The folks at NVI (whose writing at SEO Moz are fairly good – keep it up Guillaume!) might find their website suddenly on the “costly access” list.

Similarly, if/when they start offering analytics, you can expect Conversion Ruler (giving you guys a link because of Kent’s friendly email support) and company to find their own sites rather expensive to access. This could kill their businesses in a flash, since their business model is dependant upon people visiting their site.

ISPs and the telecom industry generally would be in a position of conflict of interest if they had control over their competition.

Thirdly, without even considering conflicts of interest and just considering the technological aspects of things, losing Net Neutrality could mean that people with bandwidth intensive sites are made more expensive. Photo bloggers and video bloggers beware! Adult industry – you’re in for it (but then, considering that you guys are the Net’s pioneers, my guess is you’ll find a hack around it that everyone else will catch up on 3 years later)! Soccer training site online? Better use text explanations for your drills!

Anybody doing business on the internet, and specifically the people in the internet marketing industry such as SEOs and analytics providers, need to fight for Net Neutrality. We all stand to lose a lot if we don’t.

Update: Other SEOs and marketing folk are discussing this issue. Jordan McCollum at Marketing Pilgrim is on it (funny… my girlfriend’s last name is McCollum too!) . Her write-up includes this killer quote, also discussing the likelihood that video users will be hit:

“Oh, wait. According to comScore, that would be 75% of US Internet users, or 132 million people (that would also be about 44% of the total US population). So three-quarters of Internet users should pay more to keep getting what they’ve been getting so that the other one-quarter can pay the same for the features that they’re not using?”

Touche!

Jeff Pulver ran a viral marketing campaign to support Net Neutrality, offering $1k for the best video ad. Kudos to you, Jeff; you deserve the link. Also check out Jeff’s great blog!

Ira Teinowitz of Adage has another worthwhile writeup, where he sums up why Net Neutrality is key:

“Favored providers could get faster access to consumers’ doorsteps and less favored ones could having difficulty competing.”

(Incidentally, you’d think that Ad Age would be doing better SEO… the URLs are keywordless, the title tag features Ad Age before the postname, a broken search function that won’t bring up the article when I type in net neutrality… go figure! At least they have smart writers penning quality content.)

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