For nearly two decades, the Internet was predominantly treated as a utility, with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) being subject to regulations that prohibited blocking and prioritizing content or throttling traffic. When the Federal Communications Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom order went into effect on June 11, however, such regulations were lifted.
Higher Education has encountered its fair share of regulation changes over the years, but the repeal of net neutrality may bring some uncharted territory. In fact, its impact is still largely unknown. Here are some key net neutrality questions and considerations for institutions and EDU marketers.
Net Neutrality & the Higher Education Classroom
The FCC’s order places the Internet in a position for change, and it’s something that could impact how students access, interact and collaborate in the digital world — and throughout their higher education journey.
Access. Student access is a major discussion point within postsecondary circles, and potential Internet “fast lanes” and pay walls might create another hurdle for institutions to overcome. This is an especially important question for online degree programs. Will its content be readily available for all students? In all states? Of all socio-economic levels?
Content & Creation. In addition to access, the Internet is key to innovation. If value is placed on different kinds of content, it could influence a student’s ability to research and complete projects. It may also limit faculty lesson plans and the opportunity to develop course materials that cover a topic on a broad and far-reaching scale.
Costs. Faster speeds and untethered access to resources may come at a different price point for all users — including universities. It’s possible that it could impact degree program bottom lines, and it may require new agreements or partnerships with ISPs.
Net Neutrality & EDU Marketing
Changing Internet environments will also impact how EDU marketing partners effectively reach future prospective students.
Lead funnels lean on online portals to drive engagement and nudge prospects from one stage to the next. Social media, in particular, is a key touch point along the lead life cycle. Effective online recruitment efforts also include paid online advertising — 61 percent of high school sophomores land on college websites this way — and college planning websites. More than 60 percent of juniors and seniors use such sites. But this level of engagement could be changing.
With the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom order, the Internet may be heading toward a paid model similar to the likes of cable TV or mobile data plans. We could see Internet sold in tiered packages — with basic bundles offering select websites and more premium-level content sold separately. In other words, it’s possible some prospective student populations may not subscribe to all channels, and it’s critical for higher education institutions and EDU marketers to take this into consideration. It’s time to innovate. It’s more important than ever for schools to develop comprehensive marketing strategies that incorporate a broader set of communication channels and to tie those strategies with strong boots-on-the-ground efforts. For example, two-thirds of students are receptive to text message communication; SMS marketing may soon become an increasingly effective lead nurturing strategy.
Marketers will also need to consider how new Internet environments will influence search engine algorithms, mobile marketing, streaming content, and much, much more. Strategies must be nimble in order to update strategies accordingly and quickly — in an effort to ensure leads are not missed.
Net Neutrality & States
The impact may differ from state to state. For students, institutions and higher education partners in New York, Montana and Washington, the order’s impact may not be quite as significant. They have recently enacted state-wide regulations to preserve net neutrality protections, and other states — like California — may be soon following suit.
It goes without saying that Higher Education as a whole is evolving. A new Internet environment is just one more reason for the industry to innovate and for EDU marketers to think bigger and more broadly.