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Monday, December 27, 2010

PR Questions on Net Neutrality

The FCC has passed a set of controversial rules on Internet access called "Net Neutrality" which is designed to ensure unblocked access and eliminate discrimination on the World Wide Web. It is a complicated issue, but central to it is restricting a cable or telecom company's ability to block or slow content and with apparently different rules for wired broadband vs mobile broadband.

There are parts of these rules for everyone to hate. Many argue that the FCC is overstepping its bounds and trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. In doing so, some question whether this will stifle innovation and job creation in the digital sphere. Others complain that the rules do just the opposite of what they are intended to do and are riddled with loopholes. Rather than protecting users, it may prioritize big corporations over individuals. Some say these rules open the door to the much-frowned-upon practice by cable and telecom companies of 'billing by the byte' where the more a user downloads, the more he/she pays. Eventually, opponents argue, only the wealthy would be able to afford to download content that everyone can today.

It may well be too early after the passage of these complicated rules and in the debate to take a side, but what does Net Neutrality mean to PR professionals? Today, PR strategists are encouraging clients to expand their presence on the Internet and, increasingly, to do so using video. In addition to ads, companies are encouraged to get engaged in social media, blogs, social sites like Facebook, get into web conversations, interact and pop up prominently in search fields. But, what if Net Neutrality means that some of your content will be blocked or too expensive to view? What if it changes the current user or audience dynamic? How does it affect SEO strategies?

There is no shortage of articles and posts on this subject. Here are two: New York Times http://tinyurl.com/22wc27y and CNET http://bit.ly/gre4jj found on a Google search.

What are your thoughts? Will this change how we advise clients? Is the idea of passing such rules harmful or helpful in our pursuits to engage with stakeholders?

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