A couple of weeks ago, a United States Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s net neutrality rules.
It’s quite possible you heard nothing about it. Despite the ruling’s potentially massive implications for the Internet as we know it, relatively little is being said.
But if your business uses content marketing techniques such as blogging, video and social media, it’s important to understand what might happen.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is a principle that endorses a free and open Internet. It means that Internet Service Providers are required to provide an identical service to every single website and application, from YouTube, Google and the New York Times all the way down to the smallest bloggers. ISPs are not allowed to change the speed of access to certain content or to block content they don’t like.
Think of net neutrality as a law against content discrimination. All content is equally available.
So, what happened?
The rules against content discrimination were axed. ISPs are now free to speed up, slow down or deny service to any type or source of content they want.
Tech columnist Brian Fung of the Washington Post has a great summary of what a world without net neutrality might look like:
[ISP] Verizon could charge you an additional fee for watching Netflix, on the grounds that you’re using more data than you otherwise might if you were simply checking e-mail, like your spouse. Or, more likely, it could turn around and demand that Netflix pay a fee to reach Verizon customers. Netflix could then pass those added costs on to you.
Or Verizon and Netflix could team up, signing a deal that gives the video company preferential treatment over, say, its rival Hulu. If you wanted to watch Hulu instead of Netflix, it might cost you extra. Or perhaps Hulu wouldn’t be available on Verizon at all.
These same dynamics could take hold beyond Internet video. Online gaming could become a premium privilege. So could doing academic research.
And ISPs would be free to mix and match these services however they wanted, perhaps creating a bundle of applications you could buy together as a package — much like you buy a cable package today that includes some channels but not others.
We could end up with a tiered Internet, where deep-pocketed media companies and brands pay for smooth, fast access to their content, while the likes of small businesses, indie bloggers, podcasters and videomakers are left in the “slow lane.”
Controlled access? This abruptly returns us to the days of gatekeepers, where small content producers are denied the platform to speak because they don’t have money or the approval of those with money.
What does no net neutrality mean for content marketers?
Content marketing has helped small businesses compete — and in many cases, win — against giants. A scrappy company with something to say can blog or tweet just as easily and inexpensively as a multinational.
But the reason content marketing has worked so well is because it’s built on the foundation of an open Internet. Without free and equal access to online tools and distribution, sharing information with an audience once again becomes a game reserved for the big players.
If companies have to pay to make their website visible (not blocked), and pay to make sure their site isn’t so slow as to be unusable, how many companies do you think will be able to do that? How many independent artists, non-profits and hobby bloggers will be able to do that?
Even if it’s only the biggest sites that are charged extra because of the bandwidth they use, this could still have implications for content marketers.
Let’s say, for example, that YouTube gets charged more because all the video they have hogs bandwidth. YouTube isn’t likely to absorb that cost. Instead, they could pass it on to the consumer by making content only viewable to those with a subscription.
If YouTube becomes a subscription site, now all the embedded videos in your blog posts and the video you upload to YouTube can only be seen by subscribers. A much smaller number than the entire Internet population.
Let’s talk about this
To be fair, no one really knows how the killing of net neutrality will play out. The above scenarios are conjecture — plausible, but still conjecture.
And net neutrality could still come back. The FCC intends to appeal the court’s decision and it has a few options for making that appeal viable.
But if the FCC ultimately fails and net neutrality is dead for good, what does this mean for us as content marketers, a group that relies on the free and easy flow of content?
Let’s talk about it. Leave a comment with your thoughts.