What the end of net neutrality means for communicators

 In Articles, Business, Case Study, Interviews

hether it is Charlie biting a finger or the President making a late-night tweet, the internet gives anybody a chance to make their voice heard. From mom-and-pop shops to multi-national corporations, the internet makes it easy and free to communicate with consumers.

But with a new proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to rollback net neutrality regulations, those personal blogs and small businesses might have a harder time getting their voices heard on the internet. The new FCC proposal cuts out Obama-era net neutrality rules that made internet service providers give equal access of all internet content to consumers.

A lack of net neutrality regulations would allow internet service providers—like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T—to block or slow-down web content. For example, for streaming services that use heavy bandwidth like Netflix and YouTube, ISPs could charge a premium to those companies and to consumers in order to access those sites.

Some communications professionals fear that this change could negatively impact internet advertisers and marketers. For instance, if advertisers don’t pay ISPs, web ads could be slowed down to the point where a consumer won’t even see the ad by the time they leave the page.

“It’s going to fundamentally change the way (marketers) can approach digital media,” said Josh Lowcock, EVP Chief Digital Officer at UMWorldwide. “It could affect everything from advertising prices and viewability standards to innovation and competition.”

Others are less concerned about the immediate impact of the net neutrality changes. The FCC proposal won’t be voted on until Dec. 14 and, though likely to pass, the changes won’t go into effect for a few months and potential lawsuits against the FCC might slow the effects even more.

“This won’t kill journalism, advertising or public relations,” said professor Ed Carter, director of Brigham Young University’s School of Communications. “Content will continue to flow for the most part and we won’t see wholesale changes immediately.”

Still, while large content providers like Amazon or Hulu will be able to pay the increased costs, the same might not be the case for small businesses. Though the internet previously provided free access to content, marketers might have to accept the reality this free access might now come with a price tag from ISPs.

An AT&T store at sunrise located in Orem, Utah. Like Verizon, the internet service provider AT&T is a key player in the FCC’s latest proposal against net neutrality.

However, because consumers already have to wade through so much online content, some argue that cutting through the clutter is a bigger problem for small business than net neutrality. Carter suggests that the saturation of voices will likely be the biggest problem small business marketers face, with or without net neutrality.

“So many people are wading through content with varying levels of quality, trying to find the truth,” said Carter. “If content creators can make things that are truthful and useful for consumers, then their messages will make it to consumers.”

Whatever the consequences of the FCC’s proposal, consumers and content creators are making their voices heard before the final vote. Protests have been set up on Dec. 7 in Salt Lake City at various Verizon stores. The website Battle for the Net also gives users access to emails of U.S. Congress members, who could stop the FCC vote.

So, while the internet’s future might be less certain with the potential end of net neutrality, what is certain is that people probably won’t be seeing Charlies bitten finger or the President’s tweets go away anytime soon.

Written by Trevor Hawkins

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