Net neutrality, a phrase you’re probably hearing across a multitude of industries including politics, journalism, marketing, and technology. The policy, enacted by the FCC in 2015, prohibits Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from interfering with the content on our networks. In other words, services that provide us with internet are now able to control or tamper with what we are able to access and view on the web.

The repeal of net neutrality brings a new level of regulation to the internet. To paint a better picture, without net neutrality, companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon can now freely correlate restriction of access with profit. At WP Engine, we have long supported a free and open internet. Using a combination of art and science, we aim to help our customers create memorable, competitive experiences online.

New policies commercializing internet access and repealing neutrality for the web will change the landscape for online businesses going forward. When everyone has access to a free, unbiased and open internet, companies are able to fairly compete in areas that matter: creativity, the ability to innovate, and the quality of products.

Who is Gen Z?

In 2017, WP Engine commissioned a study by The Center For Generational Kinetics called The Future of Digital Experiences: How Gen Z is Changing Everything. The study aimed to compare the mindset, preferences, and expectations of Generation Z to other generations. Other than the study shedding light on an otherwise unexplored generation, it is of tremendous use to companies and brands. This generation, aged 22 and younger, now make up more than 40 billion dollars in buying power and are expected to account for 40% of consumer spending in the next decade.

Generation Z is the first generation who has never lived a day without the internet. More than that, the internet is an integral part of their day-to-day lives. The majority of Gen Zers believe that, within 5 years, the internet will determine what a person does on a daily basis. It’s so ingrained in their routines that most say they couldn’t comfortably go more than 2-8 hours without the internet. This is especially apparent in their strategic use of social media. Nearly 90% of Gen Z associate digital experiences with social media and the specific role certain platforms play in their life. Instagram is the platform for the ideal, curated self, Snapchat is for ephemerality, Facebook is a means for sharing information, and Twitter is the source of immediate news.

So ubiquitous is the internet for these digital natives that free, unfettered, and constant access is considered a human right. Just as often as they are having face-to-face interactions, they are interacting with people, groups, and brands online. The moments offline and online are not differentiated; the digital experience has become the human experience. In line with their lifestyle, Gen Zers expect policy-makers, corporations, and brands to create opportunities and experiences on the web that are authentic, personalized and predictive.

What Does Net Neutrality Mean For the Next Generation?  

For Gen Z, the internet isn’t a luxury. It’s the most important part of forming their social identity, the primary way they are entertained, the way they learn about what’s happening in the world, and the vector for facilitating out-of-the-classroom education. This generation expects low-barrier, unregulated access in order to stay consistently informed, entertained and educated; 17% of respondents said low cost, easily accessible internet would make their online experience dramatically better.  This freedom is empowering this entrepreneurial generation to use digital experiences to be self-reliant. As adolescents and teenagers, they are leading the charge in start-up businesses, redefining marketing by tying brands to their identity, and taking a more active, omniscient approach to education.

“While the vote against a free and open internet will impact every generation, Generation Z doesn’t know a world without it. Not only will their everyday lives be affected by the vote, brands will have a harder time reaching them in ways they want to be reached,” -Mary Ellen Dugan, CMO at WP Engine

While some generations might view the regulations as unjust and inconvenient, Gen Z will view it as an unwelcome hindrance to their everyday routines, important interactions, and future passions. These restrictions to an otherwise constantly engaged generation will present new complications for brands as well.

Because of their familiarity and comfort with digital experiences and targeting campaigns, Gen Z is one of the first generations okay with being advertised to. Their expectations of brands and digital experiences are clear: they want it to feel authentic, ensure security, be entertaining and be personal to them. However, restrictions on internet access impede the avenue in which brands can reach Gen Z. Interactions will be limited, squashing relationships and the trust Gen Z has in brands.

For a generation who sees the internet as a means of independence and self-expression, the repeal of net neutrality will completely shift their online experience. What was once as abundant as the air they breathe, will become a commodity that is controlled or regulated beyond their control. Their means of interacting with the world and with other brands will need to be redefined and companies will experience challenges as the digital natives acquire even more buying power and enter the workforce.

Learn More

For more information about digital experiences, Gen Z, and net neutrality, check out our CMO, Mary Ellen Dugan, on the Computer America podcast.