Net neutrality rules, which prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from favoring certain sites or content over others, have been repealed by the Federal Communications Commission. Any actual change from the repeal will come directly from the ISPs, and if they begin taking advantage of the rule changes, small businesses and entrepreneurs could be severely affected.
Net Neutrality Changes Impact on SMBs
Net neutrality rules were intended to prevent ISPs from doing three main things:
- Blocking lawful sites or apps from customers
- Slowing down connections for any legal content
- Charging a premium to companies for a faster internet connection
With the repeal, ISPs could restrict certain sites to only premium, high-price packages, cause certain content to load slower, or allow companies to pay for faster connections to their sites. The effects of these changes on SMBs may not be trivial.
It’s not uncommon for consumers to live in an area where they only have access to one ISP, giving them a limited number of options when choosing an internet plan and potentially limiting their access to certain content all together. This can make it difficult for small businesses with less capital to compete against companies who are partnering with ISPs for broad coverage and fast load times. Small businesses, entrepreneurs, startups, and freelancers could have a harder time getting their brand found online or getting their sites to load quickly. Slow load times often equal customers going elsewhere — and that’s if customers have access to the site at all.
Preparing Your SMB for a Post-Neutrality World
SMBs should consider preparing for impending ISP changes and figure out how they can stay competitive in a post-neutrality world. Here are four things you may want to consider doing now that can help protect your business:
- Save More / Prepare for Funding
If you’re able to save some of your cash reserves now, you can use them to pay for a potentially costly ISP plan down the road. Cash flow is often a top issue for SMBs and entrepreneurs, but managing it effectively may help you free up some dollars that you can set aside for the future. If there’s no way you can pinch pennies, you may want to start preparing for outside funding.
- Use Data and Analytics
It will be even more important to reach your customers where they are if ISPs roll out changes that affect your business. Knowing where your best prospects are primarily located, which sites they prefer to use, and which ISPs they have access to can be crucial in choosing a plan for your business. Do you want to pay for faster load times if your prospects and customers are using a plan that may not include your content? If you don’t already have advanced data and analytics on your target audience, now is the time to consider collecting and analyzing.
- Set Up a Strong Nurture Program
You could lose access to your customer base depending on what changes ISPs make, so having a strong nurture program in place before you lose access can be critical. Start by making sure your contacts are up to date (that you have the correct email, address, and phone number for each customer and prospect), and then work on developing email and direct mail campaigns to keep your business top of mind with your audience even if you can no longer reach them as easily through the internet.
- Optimize Your Website
Faster connection speeds and load times are likely going to become premium options for ISPs post-net neutrality, so having an optimized website can be key for SMBs. Making sure your site is reactive, optimized for mobile, and not bogged down by too many large images or videos can help you succeed, even if ISP changes slow down your site. You may also want to consider your site layout and make sure you’re displaying your most important information in a way that will load quickly and be easily accessible by visitors. If prospects do end up waiting longer for your site to load, they will want to find what they need even faster than before. Consider auditing your web properties to see where you can make improvements over the next few months.
Competing digitally is already hard for many SMBs, and changes as a result of net neutrality being repealed could make it even more difficult. Change in business is constant, however – as we’ve seen recently with GDPR – and companies should always have to find ways to stay resilient. The tips above may help you prepare your business for other future regulatory changes, so bookmark this page for future use!
Photo Credit: nazmanm, Twenty20