It seems all anyone's talking about in terms of online policy these days is Facebook's privacy kerfluffle. Which is kind of a big deal, but small potatoes, really, when compared to the really big, burning, important issue of the day: net neutrality.

This critical issue may not be at the forefront of news, opinion columns and debate in the media, but the fact that digital marketers and e-commerce providers are ignoring it is as baffling as it is inexcusable. The major broadband providers: Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner want to tax content providers. They want to determine what sites their subscribers can access, and how quickly - giving priority, of course, to their own products and services.

They want to continue to charge some of the world's highest prices for broadband. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  a monthly broadband subscription in the US costs, on average, about $8 for each advertised megabit per second. In the UK it costs $1.98, in Japan $2.33.

Go elsewhere? It's likely there's only one provider in your area, unless you live in a major metropolis.

What about you? If you're an advertiser, will a telco-controlled internet provide you with the data you need to run effective camapigns? Will broadband providers throttle access to your online storefront? If you're a publisher (and these days, who isn't?), will access to your content be cut off if you don't render unto the Big Four? If they block or choke the traffic to your site, how can you convince advertisers to buy your inventory?

Does this all sound worst-case scenario? It is. It's also very, very real. This week, 74 House Democrats joined 37 Senate Republicans and signed a letter telling the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to halt all efforts to protect Internet users and to stop big companies from blocking Internet traffic. In doing so, they broke with President Obama who camapigned on the issue of net neutrality and is still a staunch supporter. Oh, and virtually all the signers have accepted enormous campaign contributions from the anti-net neutrality telco lobby.

Net neutrality is a critical issue not just for consumers, and not just because it keeps this country's dominant system of communication free and open, but because of its economic impact. If you're reading this it's likely that you, like me, make your living at least in part from the open internet.

So why aren't you doing anything about it? I've been asking marketers this question since 2006. It's baffling that our industry trade organizations: the IAB, DMA, AAAA and ARF, aren't taking a stand and rallying their members around this critical cause.

Why don't digital marketers care about net neutrality? What, aside from signing petitions, might they do to protect the web from a corporate takeover? Where are the protests when a company such as Apple winds up making exclusive deals for the iPhone and iPad with AT&T, the company that not only invented the concept of anti-net neutrality but also the one leading the charge with the most egregious forms of astroturfing?

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Rebecca Lieb

Published 27 May, 2010 by Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb oversees Econsultancy's North American operations.

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Comments (6)

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Niall D.

This issue is so important to all of us inside and outside web platforms. We need to start organising more grassroots organisations that can ban together to deal with this issue - World Wide. In Ireland we are seeing businesses deciding how and who is getting policed on the internet - with no government envolvement. We have the Record Companies forcing ISPs to police their own clients. This is scary stuff....

about 8 years ago

Mike Stenger

Mike Stenger,

I think the big issue Rebecca is the fact that people don't see any issue with the Internet as it is right now regarding the Net Neutrality issue. Now, if you were to take that away, you'd have people speaking up and who knows what else. We're a society that tends to do things after the problem has already set in, not before like we should. As far as Internet prices which are pricey for the amount of bandwidth we get, most people feel like there is no reason to fight because they really don't have any choice. There's only a few providers here and there and if you don't like 'em, well, you're going to be without Internet.

about 8 years ago


John C.

"What, aside from signing petitions, might they do to protect the web from a corporate takeover?" I think a very important component of keeping Net Neutrality is informing the general public what this means, and what they have at stake. Real education about what is going on is key to opening people's minds. most "educated" people throw their money away on instant gratification while someone, or something else take care of the thought process. The expectation to pay a little more for convenience is "no big deal!". Then again, when you are following the herd you only need to know what a sheep looks like. While we are distracted by technology, Washington is being bought by the highest bidder, and at the same time is corrupted even more by all the side bets going on. Please excuse me, I smell the aroma of strong coffee!

about 8 years ago


Web development London

Great article! It’s true the whole industry has a ‘if I build it,
they will come’ mentality; most aren’t lacking good ideas, but good follow-through.
I think I always knew this, but have always had trouble articulating it, especially to some of the start-ups I’m working with.

Also, I love your diagrams. You can explain things to me anytime :)

about 8 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at EconsultancyStaff

A fair point and challenge Rebecca. Something I'm guilty of I think (not doing enough). I suppose my excuse / thinking goes something like this:

1. They won't *actually* do it will they?

I remember when the EU was talking about 'banning' cookies or at least making any site that used cookies (= all of them) pop up a big information alert to all users alerting them to the cookie. I think everyone in the internet industry ignored this as totally unworkable and crazy Euro politicians meddling in things they didn't understand. And sure enough it went away - why I don't know, though I think there was *some* lobbying from internet trade bodies. 

2. If they do it, an alternative will quickly present itself

If I was Google, for example, I would step in and provide an 'open' alternative. Actually I think they might well do that anyway some time soon. Now whether you think Google represents a completely 'open' alternative is another question of course!

So, I fear, as Mike points out, that the general mentality is "It probably won't happen, and if it does, we'll figure something out. In the meantime I'm real busy."

about 8 years ago


Hudson Valley SEO

From a web marketing perspective, I can't see how this would be anything but disastrous. Imagine trying to create and manage an effective SEO, paid search or social media campaign for a client whose site isn't "favored" by one or more of the major broadband providers. In other words, you are pushing brand x, but your top competitor has a cozy, cash-induced relationship with the broadband provider and brand x is then that much harder to get to on the Internet. The corporations like ComCast and others can come up with all of the hypothetical reasons why they should be able to regulate bandwidth, but it all comes down to greed. Some consultant or analyst spotted the untapped profit potential and, if we all don't start making some noise, we're going be on the short end of some major, game-changing moves.

about 8 years ago

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