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What the Demise of Net Neutrality Means for Healthcare Marketing

Paul Griffiths

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3 – 2 to repeal net neutrality, sending shockwaves through consumers and digital marketers alike.

Net neutrality is a set of rules enacted in 2015 under the Open Internet Order that barred internet service providers (ISPs) from:

  • Blocking access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices
  • Throttling, impairing, or degrading lawful Internet traffic
  • Favoring some affiliated internet content or applications, such as providing paid prioritization to content or applications (no “fast lanes” for particular content)

The FCC’s repeal essentially will allow ISPs to provide consumers with content access at differing rates depending on their preference, including financial incentives from the content providers or additional costs for the consumers. The demise of net neutrality will affect how healthcare organizations reach their audiences on digital channels, just as it will every industry.

We predict that the repeal will close a few doors in healthcare marketing that have been creeping shut for some time. Likewise, the repeal will blow wide open the impetus and opportunity for healthcare organizations to push full-speed ahead into the digital arena.

How will the repeal affect access to digital content?

Entities that consume a lot of bandwidth, such as Netflix, will have their bandwidth throttled, favored or disfavored by ISPs. Access to certain social media networks, such as Facebook and Spotify, will be monetized the same way premium services, like HBO, are for the cable industry. In other words, people will be required to pay for services that are currently bundled together and thought of as free.

However, as individuals become required to pay for access to their favorite platforms (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Spotify), we predict that consumers will more readily drop cable and other traditional content channels and reallocate their budgets to digital.

Currently, many ISPs bundle cable television and internet access together. The way healthcare consumers interact with content has shifted heavily to digital (social media, web, and mobile), though many healthcare organizations still funnel much of their marketing budgets into traditional media (television, radio, and print).

Healthcare marketers will be placed at the apex of a decision that has been a long time coming: deliver content where the consumers spend their time and money or get left behind.

What are the risks and benefits for healthcare marketers?

We predict some disruptions in how patients can communicate with you online, including changes in access to patient and provider portals and electronic health records. Additionally, social media ad effectiveness also might decrease significantly, even varying by region if they vary by internet provider. If a certain ISP monetizes Facebook but not Twitter, there will be a measurable impact in the cost and efficacy of those ads.

However, there are potential opportunities for hospitals and health plans as well, especially with digital outreach and advertising. For example, organizations will be able to target people by their ISP and pay for mindshare in new ways. Since healthcare is so localized, the ability of ISPs to offer options to get directly in front of consumers will create new advertising opportunities.

There’s a strong case to be made for increasing digital investment now because we predict that the repeal will increase the volume of cord cutters – people who cancel their subscriptions to cable TV and opt for streaming internet instead.

Likewise, healthcare marketing budgets must shift from current TV ad spend to digital in order for organizations to stay relevant and top of mind. We predict that ISPs will start to offer two-tiered internet service, much like Amazon’s Kindle devices do already: a more expensive tier for service without ads, and a lower-cost tier that allows advertising.

Related reading: How Amazon is Quietly Disrupting Healthcare with Customer Experiences

How fast will the changes go into effect?

Not immediately, but changes will come next year through the commercial offerings of ISPs. It’s most likely that there will be gradual changes over time.

Certainly, there will be legal challenges that might lead to delays. In fact, some members of Congress are already introducing a Congressional Review Act resolution that would reverse the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. The act gives Congress 60 days to reverse any regulatory action. There will likely be further court challenges as well.

One fact is clear: Traditional advertising has become considerably less relevant, and the repeal of net neutrality perhaps is the proving factor that it’s time for healthcare organizations to make the leap into mostly – if not entirely – digital marketing.

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