If you follow technology news, you probably caught a bit of the news on Tuesday that an appeals court in Washington DC has struck down the FCC’s rules for Net Neutrality. The decision could have stunning repercussions for the PR industry, given what we could be about to witness.
In the simplest of terms, prior to Tuesday, any company that provided an Internet connection had to treat every piece of data it carried as equal. It meant a company like Comcast wasn’t allowed to slow down a Netflix connection (even though theoretically, companies like Netflix could be a competitor).
That changed Tuesday, and now, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are allowed to treat traffic as they’d like. Here’s a description of what could happen from Ryan Singel (posted at Medium):
GigaOm has a full recap of what quite a few thought leaders and influencers think. It’s worth the read (I first noticed Singel’s quote there).
If your cable company now wants to slow down Netflix, it can. If it wants to make Skype calls slow, it can. If it wants to make streaming video from its services lightning fast and free from data caps, while slowing down YouTube and counting that data against your monthly allotment, it can do so.
From a PR perspective, there is a very real possibility that flacks will need to understand which companies are “playing ball” with ISPs, and which have decided not to pay for a so-called “fast lane.”
Here’s a (completely) hypothetical example: If a flack does a great job and gets a startup featured on a Bloomberg.tv segment, but Bloomberg has decided not to pay for “super streaming,” how many people would stick around to watch that segment (I suspect that a majority of people see the word "buffering" and turn away). The value of earned media on Bloomberg TV could go down dramatically in this instance.
Conversely, streaming video companies that do pay up could become more valuable media placements, and the flacks who are on top of this should have a leg up (if a lesser known company decides to pay-up, it’s possible that earned media on that streaming property could end up with a higher viewership).
At the end of the day, a huge group of people who know a lot more about this than I do all seem to agree that this court decision is terrible for consumers. Because of that, it seems likely that consumers will be forced to change their behaviors. As such, in order to deliver the most possible value to our PR clients, we need to be aware of what changes consumers make, and be able to articulate that to our clients.