Net neutrality rules required internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Comcast, Sprint and Verizon, to treat all internet traffic equally. ISPs could not discriminate against websites or charge different prices based on user type, content, platform, application, method of communication, or other factors. Websites that marketers helped develop and promote enjoyed the same potential to reach audiences as websites of internet giants.
More Competition – Or Less?
With the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to repeal net neutrality, ISPs can now provide faster service to those willing to pay more and charge more to access websites like Netflix or YouTube or others that require more bandwidth. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argues that the repeal will foster innovation and competition. Others predict the opposite. Although some predictions verge on alarmist, the demise of net neutrality will surely impact online marketing and digital PR.
ISPs could favor their own content over competitors. They might even restrict internet access to all but those paying the highest prices. Access to websites of individuals, small businesses, and sites of all but deep-pocket corporations could become slower or nonexistent.
If that happens, small businesses and agencies will not be able to compete. If a company like Amazon can prioritize their own ad traffic through their servers, customers will be more likely to click on their ads, giving them a competitive advantage, warns Reuven Shechter, digital content specialist at Leverage Marketing. “Small- and medium-sized businesses could lose out, have their traffic and revenue drop, and watch as the larger players take a bigger slice of the pie,” Schechter says.
More Considerations for Digital PR
PR pros will need to consider how fast content may be delivered online, and what outlets are best for all forms of content whether paid, owned, or earned, predicts Cayce Myers, legal research editor for the Institute for Public Relations. Earned media in multiple outlets may become more important because ISPs could favor content from media outlets from their parent companies or from bigger companies that pay for faster delivery.
Small clients may need to pay more for internet access. Some may not be able to afford the digital PR services they need, Myers warns. PR professionals may need to increase fees to include the cost of faster online delivery of content. They may see a new line on budgets.
The Power over Web Speed & Content
“Now, the ISPs pretty much have the power to decide what online content is delivered at what speed to whom,” writes Chitra Iyerk, editor-in-chief of MarTech Advisor. “Think they will exercise that power? Is the sky blue?”
Iyerk says the repeal will impact many areas of digital marketing:
Improving organic reach will become more difficult. It won’t matter how skilled you are at SEO if you’re not in the fast lane.
Instead of offering free trials, marketers may need to offer free bandwidth combined with free trials.
Ad exchanges will need to pay more to have content on a digital fast lane. They’ll pass costs on to advertisers.
Content marketing will lose credibility when people realize the content they view is placed before them because someone paid top-dollar money to be visible.
Marketers and PR pros at smaller firms may rely more on social media platforms. Companies and their agencies may create the content and leave the distribution to large social media networks that can afford the toll to reach wider audiences.
Web analytics will become more complicated. Comparing web traffic of different players with varying internet speeds will be more challenging. That may prompt marketers to approach web metrics differently.
ISPs could simply terminate internet service if they decide they don’t like the brand, its values or audience, just as some publishers now refuse to accept some kinds of content or advertising.
The fate of the FCC’s decision remains unclear. Its opponents have filed lawsuits to reinstate the old rules. Several states are considering legislation to require net neutrality within their borders, and some US congressmen want to overturn the FCC ruling. Whatever happens, the regulation, cost and delivery of online content will change over the coming decade, Myers says.
“It is important for PR professionals to know that they now, more than ever, have to have expertise in both content creation and technological innovation to compete in the digital age,” he concludes.
Bottom Line: Pundits say repeal of net neutrality will upend internet marketing and digital PR. Many predict an unlevel playing field and severe disadvantages for small businesses and small PR and marketing agencies. Even if the dire predictions don’t come to pass, delivery of online content will probably change.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.