by Shelton Bumgarner
There’s a reason why Net Neutrality died — there’s lots and lots and LOTS of money to be made by access providers by blackmailing the major Websites of the Internet into subsidizing consumers’ access to online content. So, what is going to happen very soon — I predict within two years — is initially access providers will attempt to force you into using their basic online services by making them part of their basic access package. In essence, they will try to force consumers into something akin to the online services of the 1990s.
Either this happens very abruptly without any notice and everyone gets really mad, or before access providers do this, the major Websites get wind of it and they, in a panic, come to some agreement. So, what happens is, Google throws about a $1 billion at Verizon, Comcast, etc, so the end-user doesn’t see any difference in their access to Google’s services. Meanwhile, the other major players do the same.
The big question is what happens to smaller players who don’t have the money to throw around. Probably what happens is there is consolidation and segmentation. So, the Web finally matures when everyone currently “making money” off of the lie of online advertising either go out of business or get bought out by either a major access company or a major online company.
As such, it doesn’t take a lot of thinking to see properties like AOL and Yahoo could very well see a renaissance. Online a portal could give consumers the opportunity to access a wide-range of content in a way they’re used to. Because once Net Neutrality dies, you’ll probably see a lot of segmentation with just a few sites (Google, Netflix, Facebook, Amazon & Twitter) being almost like the broadcast networks of yore in the sense that everyone will have free access to them. Everyone else will be screwed in the sense that you’ll have a Sports package, a News Package, an Entertainment package, and on and on and on.
Now, all of this will have a cascading effect. Online advertising, especially, will finally be seen as the lie it is and while it may not contract, the context will be dramatically different. In fact, while most content will finally be behind a paywall, everyone involved will have a vested interest in subsiding consumers’ access to online content in some way so it’s still “free.”
The more I think about it, the more it seems the sequence of events will be like this — Net Neutrality officially dies because everything sucks, there’s a recession and then the access plans are rolled out. Now, the big question is how much the access companies will screw everything up. Will they roll these access plans out in coordination with the major online content providers and Websites, or will they spring them on everyone causing a lot of unnecessary chaos?
Anyway, the point is, we’re in the final stages of the ad supported era of online content. So, in my view, things will go something like this:
2019-2020: transition to post-Net Neutrality / subscription based online experience in the context of a major recession
2020-2024: The Return of Portals
2024 –? The MX Era
So, what I’m saying is — just past the horizon is MX (AR/VR). The era of “immersive media” will probably be a lot like the early days of Internet access 25 years ago and so, in a sense, things will reset, but in the context of there being no Net Neutrality. Everyone involved will have a huge vested interest in making sure everyone possible can get access to the MX experience and so in a sense the consumer / end user won’t notice the vast sums of money being throw around to make their experience as “free” seeming as possible. (Even though it’s anything but.)
It will be interesting to see the exact nature of the 2020-2024 era. You might see some major online players do some unexpected things. Wouldn’t major online players like Facebook and Amazon — while they were waiting for MX to mature — have a vested interest in some major media plays simply to flesh out their media portfolio in this new world? So, what you would have is a chaotic goldrush of sorts with access providers and major Websites fighting it out. Maybe Facebook or Amazon would feel forced to make an access play? I could see a company like Facebook or Amazon doing something which would seem pretty shocking right now — buy a cable company or merge with a telecom.
So it would be somewhat amusing if Verizon’s ownership of AOL and Yahoo suddenly became a big deal. I mean, the company has two major brand names, maybe Facebook or Amazon might buy one of them off it as part of a major content push. Or Facebook or Amazon might buy Comcast simply to funnel consumers to their site by making their content part of a basic access package. I guess what I’m saying is the notion of content and access because of Net Neutrality became disconnected. Maybe once Net Neutrality dies that will no longer be the case.
Because your access providers will have the major Websites by the short hairs, as they say, and given how big Facebook and Amazon (not to mention Google) are, they have the resources to make some jaw dropping access plays. I mean, really, what’s to stop Google from buying Verizon in a post Net Neutrality world. Wouldn’t it make sense for something like that to happen? I know Google has Google Fiber here and there across the country, but it would make a lot more sense for them to gobble up an access company instead.
Let’s look at what we have now. We have three major access companies as I understand it: Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. So, I’m proposing that very soon those three companies might be bought by the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Google. Logically, in the post Net Neutrality world it would make a huge amount of sense for something like that to happen. Some wild cards are Netflix and Apple, but I’m not as confident they would do such a thing.
One interesting thing is what happens to newspapers in all of this. I suspect unless, say, Facebook buys a lot of them up to fill out its media portfolio, that unless you’re The New York Times or The Washington Post, your goose is cooked. But who knows. All I know is I think newspapers should think outside the box and design an app, but that’s just me.
Anyway, I think I’ve explained why Net Neutrality died. There’s simply too much money involved. The only thing I can compare to is a downlow version of Bill Clinton signing the big telecom bill of the 1990s which saw a lot of consolation. We’re ripe for a new round of that once Net Neutrality is gone.
It’s very possible that some pretty enormous companies are about to be birthed. I mean, imagine a world in which Facebook owns Verizon, Amazon owns AT&T and Google own Comcast. Imagine if each of these mega companies then played God about which media companies lived and died simply by who they decided to wrap up in a portal they’ve built. With Google, the portal concept might be a little more sly in the sense that you’d still have the traditional Google search box, but Google would simply buy up a huge swath of the available media so they could subsidize it for you in the context of a basic access plan that really what you would see is what Google was willing to buy.
Netflix is a little bit of a wildcard. I honestly don’t know what their fate might be. They are an important media company online, and yet….I think they have huge debt and it’s not as likely that they could pull off a merger with a major access company. A back of the envelope prediction would be that Apple would buy them. Apple simply because it has a huge fucking amount of money is another wildcard. I mean, once Net Neutrality doesn’t exist, it makes a lot of sense for Apple to buy Netflix, then turn around and buy, say AT&T or some such. Something like that.
But, anyway, you ain’t see nothing yet. The next few years are likely to be pretty bumpy while we transition to MX.
Shelton Bumgarner is a writer and photographer living in Richmond, Va. He is working on his first novel. He may be reached at migukin (at) gmail (dot) com.