How To Avoid Getting Caught With Your Pants Down In The Wake Of Neutered Net Neutrality Rules

Big news yesterday on the Net Neutrality front and none of it is any good. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has plans to implement a new set of rules that will allow internet service providers (ISP) to begin charging for different tiers of service; which all but guarantees nonprofits will be doomed to having their content delivered to site visitors at slower speeds than a mainstream site that will be able to afford the premium fees, like Amazon.com. In a public statement, the FCC said the new rules provide that “broadband providers would be required to offer a baseline level of service to their subscribers, along with the ability to enter into individual negotiations with content providers.”

Adaptistration People 076This is just the FCC’s way of trying to paint lipstick on a pig of their own design by saying that they are still protecting businesses and consumers by prohibiting ISPs from requiring all content providers from paying a foot in the door fee but you shouldn’t wait around to see how fast a “baseline level of service” actually is before taking action. And since the current FCC chairman, one of five individuals making the final decision on the rules, used to work as a former cable industry lobbyist, don’t expect that baseline to be anything good for nonprofit performing arts organization.

The reason why all of this matters is once these rules go into effect, orchestras can expect to see their website pages load slower, which means less conversions, fewer tickets sold, and lower revenue. Regular readers already know why page load speed matters and how you can measure your site’s performance; what you can expect to see is those levels dropping as ISPs begin rolling out new service tiers.

Start Making Changes. NOW!

Although it is feasible that some of the largest budget groups may be able to afford paying the ISPs new extortion fees for premium delivery speeds, that won’t do any good for the rest of field so here are some triage points you need to consider in order to marginalize the impact of the post Net Neutrality slow down.

  1. Prioritize optimization. To be clear, we are not talking about search engine optimization (SEO) here; instead, this is the geek oriented stuff that goes on under the hood of your website. We’re talking databases, PHP files, query loads, compression, caching, and more; all the stuff you probably don’t pay attention to when evaluating technology proposals. If you rely on a third party provider for your web design, you need to verify they are doing everything possible to optimize your site performance since every fraction of a second counts more than ever. Moreover, you should find out what their plan of attack is once the new rules begin rolling out.
  2. Stop relying on graphic designers to develop your site. Nothing against graphic designers here, I love mine and they are the heart and soul of stunning beautiful designs but far too often, I’ve encountered sites that are driven by graphic design at the expense of efficient programming and in the worst cases this produced large, bloated, slow loading websites that take three times the amount of commands that would be used if the site was designed with optimization in mind. In the heyday of net neutrality, you could afford this sort of waste because connection speeds increased at such profound rates, most users barely noticed the slow downs.
  3. Tone it down. What breaks my heart in all of this is some of the really cool designs I’ve come across over the last few years are simply going to collapse under their own weight. Simply put, they require too much digital junk in the trunk in order to pull off the cool factor; too much animation, too much unnecessary media content lying around, and too much unnecessary functionality. The post Net Neutrality world will demand lean, mean designs that produce a user friendly experience without all the whizz-bang eye candy that sucks up bandwidth.
  4. Tighter quality control. So, you load print quality images into your homepage slider or as embedded media in your interior pages because you were in a rush or forgot to create web safe versions? That’s going to cost you. Literally. Simply put, if you have an ideal arrangement where you can create and edit your web content directly, you’re going to have to be downright fanatical about making sure you use web safe, ultra optimized images.
  5. Reconsider your e-blast strategy. Traditionally, you never had to think twice about sending out e-blasts to your full list, huge traffic spikes were great because it quantified conversion. But the post Net Neutrality world may require you to rethink that strategy and stagger your e-blasts over a longer period of time in order to marginalize the impact on spike traffic.

In the end, those who begin preparing for the changes now by shifting design priorities and measuring page load speeds now in order to have accurate benchmarks for pre and post Net Neutrality rules will be in the best position to adapt their design and content strategy and marginalize the coming storm.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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11 thoughts on “How To Avoid Getting Caught With Your Pants Down In The Wake Of Neutered Net Neutrality Rules

  1. It’s an understatement to say this whole thing such is a bummer for the ideals of the open web that excited so many of us when we were first learning HTML in the 90s.

    We’ve already accomplished most of the things you list on the new minnesotaorchestra.org. Our goal was mobile optimization/responsive design but it dovetails nicely with this new reality. We still have a lot of work to do on our ticketing system and cart, but we’ve got a good start.

    Never a dull moment in the world of web design/development!

  2. I’d endorse your advice in general–anything you can reasonably do to optimize your web site’s performance, you should do, and I certainly agree that there’s a lot of bloat in software and web sites in general.

    However, I’m not sure how big an issue this is for the specific activities you’re talking about. While the FCC developments are very troubling, we all know what this is really about, and it’s about cable TV. Sending an email, visiting a web site (even one with overboard flash animations and/or larger than necessary images), or buying a ticket–these things are, from a bandwidth standpoint, almost trivial on the modern internet. I’ll be surprised if ISPs implement changes that affect these types of random web surfing activities. Because what they really care about is online video providers.

    What I would be more concerned about, in the context of an orchestra, is whether the changes are going to impact groups that are moving to supply online video and audio. My hunch is we’ll see impact in those areas before we see problems with general web pages loading.

  3. I’m glad you mentioned that disconnect between web and box office/shopping cart; for the majority of arts orgs those are mutually exclusive systems, even when the latter is integrated into the former. I agree that a well designed responsive architecture can help a great deal.

  4. Sure ISPs care more about streaming video than emails and ticket purchases, in theory. But generally speaking, it’s all ones and zeros, and ISPs aren’t looking at content, just where the traffic is coming from. If this goes into effect, one would hope that they would selectively throttle by IP range, limiting the throttle list to competing video services. But it’s a far easier coding job to throttle everything but their own services. Will all ISPs do this? Probably not. Just like not all airlines charge baggage fees…….yet.

  5. I agree, the easier route will be to throttle everyone’s traffic and they don’t have to care. At the very least, it would have been good to see the FCC include mandatory exemptions for nonprofits etc. but I’m not holding my breath there either.

  6. At the risk of drifting into general malaise, this seems to parallel the topics of income gap and 1%. The vast majority of content on the Internet is mom-and-pop stuff. When you count unique pages and who owns them, most of the Internet is your site, my site, this store, that blog, and several thousand peoples’ photo albums. The content that is driving the push for net neutrality is represented by a very small number of human beings. The rest of us are collateral damage.

    On a brighter note, kudos for your superb tips above. They are dead on, and orgs that can should implement them immediately. I worry, though, about the orgs that are too small to have competent web staff, either in house or outsourced. The coding that is required to survive (let alone thrive) these days is becoming quite complex. Internet divide, indeed.

  7. Thanks Karen, although I do think smaller budget groups can implement something that is optimized and tight; but the difference there is they will need to have a minimum base level of understanding of what to ask for when selecting providers. Having said all of that, the days of “my friend makes websites” to slap the org’s site together is going to become even more of a negative ROI.

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