If Net Neutrality is dead, what does it mean for associations?

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The internet took a beating a few weeks ago…

Just in case you’ve been offline and missed the news, a federal appeals court struck down struck down the concept of net neutrality, basically that internet service providers (ISPs) can’t block or restrict content. Or more simply, that all web content is treated equal without ISPs playing favorites.

Most of the kvetching we have heard has focused on “loss of consumer choice” and how ISPs could slow down bandwidth for heavy content providers such as Netflix (which would definitely affect my Doctor Who binge watching) or how small start ups would not be able to compete against deep pocketed established players.

But there is a bigger web audience I am thinking about – associations, their members and stakeholders.

I tell my friends that the association industry is the biggest industry no one knows about. And as an industry there are a LOT of websites with a LOT of content. So if ISPs are going to throttle content coming across their networks, could that affect the hundreds of thousands of associations and other non-profits out there?

I’ll be frank… I don’t know.  But there are definitely implications of this ruling and potential landscape changing technologies at risk.

With only a bit of imagination the “worried web guy” in me has created a quick list of how this ruling could affect associations.

After work access to association content – Today’s professionals are increasingly busy during the 9 to 5 of their jobs. My audience analysis projects find that association members are increasing the amount of online work they do at home or on the go – including reading content from their professional organizations. That online time could be subject to bandwidth limitations and reduce their ability to access content.

Video and Distance Learning – Many associations are adding video content and distance learning to their online offerings.  This bandwidth intensive content could be affected, particularly if users are accessing this content over consumer networks such as their home ISPs.

Telework Restrictions – As someone who teleworks most of the time and uses quite a bit of bandwidth, this would have an immediate impact. Teleworking requires business users to use their home (consumer) internet connections. ISPs could start adding a “telework package” to ensure bandwidth during the day.

Increased Web Hosting Costs – If the ISPs are going to start charging content providers a premium for bandwidth, what if they start charging hosting providers for the same.  At Vanguard Technologywe use Rackspace for our hosting and large providers like Rackspace might be able to pool resources and minimize costs, but what about organizations doing their own web hosting or using smaller providers.

Reduced Hosting Competition – With more and more websites being hosted by Amazon Web Services’ cloud, what’s to stop ISPs like Verizon and Comcast from starting their own cloud services and serving up faster access to their cloud rather than Amazon’s?  This might push other hosting providers out of business.

Ok. I’ll admit this is a “sky is falling” scenario. But if we are going to centralize the backbone of the internet in the hands of a few mega-companies, these aren’t that far fetched ideas (heck, 10+ years ago most of what the NSA has been doing was only the stuff of movies).

All I know is that as an industry we should be paying closer attention and make our voices known. Before someone else, or some company, does it for us.

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