What Does Net Neutrality Mean for CX?


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End of net neutrality
(Photo by Adam Birkett on Unsplash)

With the looming December 14th FCC vote to overturn Obama-era net neutrality rules, activists and lobbyists are hard at work. For proponents of the new legislation, the government needs to “stop micromanaging the Internet.” For supporters of America’s current net neutrality, the government’s new rules would be “throttling access, stalling opportunity, and censoring content.” Regardless of your view, it’s likely that the vote for new regulation will pass: The FCC’s 5-person committee leans Republican 3-to-5, and the legislation’s backing is largely divided by bi-partisan lines. So what do the new rules mean for customer experience and authentication?

To understand, let’s take a look at the new legislation’s first-order effects on the very boring and confusing topic of net neutrality. The essence of net neutrality is that internet service providers (ISPs) are required to treat all website (net) traffic the same, or neutrally. They can’t play favorites with their business partners. They can’t charge consumers differently to access different parts of the Internet. And they can’t charge websites to deliver traffic more quickly, or just to bring their traffic in on time.

On the consumer side, after the regulations take effect individuals will have to pay for Internet packages similar to cable companies. Those who can pay for faster speeds and access to all areas of the Internet will, and those who cannot pay won’t. There are larger implications than poor college students not being able to waste their time streaming Game of Thrones. ISPs’ placements of websites into certain Internet packages will determine who can access the information from those websites. There will no longer be egalitarian access to the Internet.

Applied to customer experience, there are a couple of later-order effects. For individuals, the implications seem simple. If they can pay for faster Internet speeds, they’ll have better online customer service. If they can’t, then they’ll be more frustrated by slow online customer service. Those who can pay will likely gravitate towards the ease of use of fast online customer service, and those who cannot pay will likely utilize customer service channels like calling on the phone or going to physical stores instead.

However, this oversimplification assumes that ISPs will treat Internet traffic to different websites in the same way – which with the new legislation, they most certainly will not. ISPs like Comcast will charge businesses for fast lanes for their websites. Netflix will have to add an ‘ISP fund’ to their budget to keep their videos from lagging. But that will actually be great for Netflix because they have the cash to pay. For smaller specialty streaming services – start-ups like Netflix of the late 90’s – this new legislation is game over. They don’t have the money to pay for high-speed service, and who wants to watch lagging videos? Any sectors of the web that rely on large amounts of data transfer will be similarly affected, and these industries will likely become monopolized or at least oligopolized as a result.

Big companies that can pay for any competitive advantage – in customer service or otherwise – will pay. ISPs will charge them extra to give their website users faster customer service. Perhaps, they’ll even have to charge to include access to their website in all Internet bundles. Smaller companies without the money to pay off ISPs will have slower websites even on faster consumer plans and may not be included on minimalist consumer Internet plans. So you as a consumer might not even be able to load these smaller companies’ websites, and you definitely won’t wait around for the snail’s pace of their page speed. Consequently, you’ll likely call when you need customer service.

What does this all mean for the financial institutions, healthcare providers, retailers, and hospitality companies for which CX plays a pivotal role? Does it make more sense to bite the bullet and pay up to ISPs for great online customer service or to beef up your call centers to handle the increased volume of calling consumers? A cohesive strategy likely lies somewhere in the middle – paying ISPs and improving your call center efficiency.

So what can you do now? First, you can allocate time and money to explore the best ISP options offered for your specific website. Second, you can invest in your call center to improve efficiency. Improve the training of your representatives. Commit to authentication technologies – preferably passive solutions that don’t sacrifice security for customer experience. Most of all, regularly review your contact center processes and adapt based on the conclusions from these analyses.

In summation, those companies that can spend the big bucks on great ISP service will have fast Internet speeds and will be included in all Internet packages. Those companies with tighter budgets will have slower online customer service – if consumers can access their websites at all on their low-cost plans. For these smaller companies, traffic will shift away from online customer service to the phone channel. As a consequence, there will be an increased need for efficient processes within the call center – specifically user authentication – because consumers don’t want to wait on the phone anymore than they do on the computer. Companies need to start preparing for this CX shift now by setting aside time to analyze ISP plans and focusing on their contact center efficiency.

Tim Prugar
Tim Prugar is the Director of Customer Success at Next Caller, a firm that leverages real-time telephony data for improved Customer Experiences and Call Center Security. Tim is responsible for onboarding new customers and ensuring an authentic, transparent, and warm relationship with Next Caller. Tim also serves as Next Caller's chief producer of industry-facing thought leadership and public speaking. A student of Organizational Leadership and Change Management, Tim resides in Connecticut.


  1. Despite the arguments against the principle, I believe that ISPs shouldn’t have the right to decide the websites we can access, what online stores we can shop at, or which streaming services we can use. That is merely my opinion, however. Be sure to voice your thoughts about the Net Neutrality debate in the comments section below and at the respective forums! https://goo.gl/nGTYtu


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