On Wednesday, September 10th, several high-profile sites such as Kickstarter, Etsy, Reddit, Mozilla, and Meetup are participating in a "slow-lane" protest in a show of solidarity to preserve Net Neutrality.
Don't worry, none of those sites are actually slowing down their networks. Instead, be prepared to see fake loading bars and spinners to emulate what having to pay for a fast-lane would be like.
Help.com will be adding our voice to those in support of preserving Net Neutrality and will be artificially "slowing down" our site for the day. We've even developed an open source jQuery plugin for you to use to show support on your own site. But why should we care? Better yet, from a customer service standpoint, why should you care?
Speed and quick reactions make or break customer service. Here's a quote from an unsatisfied customer on Twitter just yesterday: (Thankfully he's not talking about @tweetsfromhelp.)
If it takes you more than an hour to reply to tweets, then don't bother using the word "help" in your handle. #Useless
No customer service department ever wants to hear feedback like that from a customer. Customer service on Twitter can be tough because you need lots of reps manually reading and replying. You could say that their response time is limited by the amount of personnel bandwidth they have. If you want to decrease response time and handle more tweets concurrently, you'll need to hire more customer service reps to keep up.
That's how network bandwidth works. You can increase the amount of data being transported by affording more pipelines to carry the data. Fast-lanes would just be huge pipes that would be able to stream much more data. But just like you'd need to hire more reps to handle more tweets, you'll need to buy more pipes to stream more data.
Obviously this would be bad if you wanted to stream a YouTube video, but where would it affect customer service technology? Well, what would happen if you maxed out all your pipes and couldn't offer any more online chat support? Or what if you could only screen share with a handful of customers at a time before things get unusably sluggish? Or what happens if your product is on the cloud and you experience a surge in usage? Now not only do you have to worry about infrastructure and personnel, but you have to budget for fast-lane usage.
All these problems can go away if you just buy into the fast-lane. In fact, that's exactly what Netflix has done to improve its service for its customers. (Which is why Netflix is not the champion of Net Neutrality that the layman would assume it to be.)
Most companies don't have the revenue cushion Netflix has to support their customers. Fledgling startups and small businesses rely on the idea that the Internet is an equal opportunity medium. The brazen bits of a wide-eyed startup get the same priority as the gigabytes of a megacorporation like Microsoft. It's how many customers request those bits that determines if a web company survives, not how much money needs to be thrown at Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to ensure they get delivered at all.
Let's say, though, that a company decides not to foot the bill for the fast-lane. They subscribe to the faster pipeline, but offload all the operating cost to the end customer. That means your product just jumped in price, to the detriment of your customers. Aside from losing current customers, acquiring new customers becomes harder since the same level of service previously offered now costs more. These worries are why VCs are pulling away from media and service heavy startups.
On top of that, who's to limit how much ISPs can charge for the fast-lane? Typically, this wouldn't be a problem due to supply and demand, but ISPs have the benefit of creating physical dependency with customers due to the impossible overhead of laying down cable or fiber and providing building installation. Proposed fast-lane implementations don't even give guidelines for a "normal" lane. Breaking Net Neutrality and adding fast-lanes would require governmental regulation anyway, so why not nip the problem in the bud and protect small businesses.
If you own a website, join us on Wednesday and slow down your site. We've done all the hard work by making a jQuery plugin for you to use. Just install it and create awareness.
If you're a regular internet user who doesn't want to have to pay extra to Facebook surf or have access to good online customer service, express your opinion, e-mail Congress and the FCC, and write to your local congressional representative.