By Matt Isaacs
A rollback of net neutrality rules in Thursday’s FCC vote on the issue could seriously hurt smaller and growing businesses’ ability to generate interest in their products, make sales or secure investments.
There are a lot of internet corners to explore in the search for the right reporters and the right audiences, and limiting access to any of them will make PR success more expensive and more time consuming. Increases in PR costs will ultimately make it more difficult for businesses – especially those with tight budgets – to connect with potential customers and keep growing.
If ISPs can charge more for access to certain content, PR practitioners will need to spend more to collect the information they need. These costs would likely be passed on to clients, making it more difficult for smaller businesses to afford the type of proactive message development and media relations programs that can help them win share of voice from larger competitors and, in turn, showcase the ways their products or services are better than incumbent solutions.
Similarly, if ISPs can choose to block or charge “tolls” for certain content, some websites will inevitably be shuttered. The limitations of digital advertising as a revenue tool have become painfully evident in media. Even moderate changes to a site’s audience size and makeup could dry up ad revenue and cripple smaller web sites.
Hardest hit by further ad revenue reductions would likely be the digital trade outlets that keep so many industries up-to-date on innovation, collaboration and developing opportunities that larger business publications or consumer media outlets won’t commit reporting resources to. Those just aren’t the stories that drive traffic for larger outlets. Again, growing businesses will find the pathways to directly connect with customers limited, and PR costs will likely grow due to the effort needed to identify and seize remaining opportunities for trade coverage.
A drying up of smaller outlets would surely hurt journalists’ ability to meet readers’ appetites for trade news, too. There are already five PR pros for every working journalist, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consolidation of reporting talent to fewer sites will make it even more difficult for journalists to choose worthwhile stories out of their cluttered inboxes, and businesses without a recognizable name, a truly groundbreaking announcement or a story guaranteed to get clicks will find it more difficult to secure coverage.
It would be great to think that the many talented reporters and editors working at trades today would be welcomed with open arms by larger publishers, but newsroom growth is not the reality of today’s media landscape. Outlets trying to fill the vacuum left by trades would probably rely more on contributed content from businesses. The sheer volume of submissions to many outlets and, unfortunately, ethical lapses by editors with little oversight are both barriers to businesses having their opinions published in reputable outlets their customers read. Increasing the load on editors could also make it harder to weed out overtly promotional or biased articles, making it harder for readers to trust content on the internet altogether.
Today there is an audience for every idea, and the freedom to go anywhere and see anything on the internet means that the ideas people see and share the most organically become more valuable through a global consensus. Removing rules that prevent ISPs from controlling access to content at their discretion cedes control of the process of forming a consensus to private businesses with an interest in amplifying supporters and making their products and properties the most visible. That stacks the deck against small and growing businesses who rely on PR practitioners to connect them with the right audiences for their ideas so that the internet can judge them, objectively and without special interest, and reach a consensus on the value of their products, solutions and ideas.
You can comment on the FCC’s proposal to remove net neutrality regulations on ISPs on their public comment page, here: https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/search/filings?proceedings_name=17-108&sort=date_disseminated,DESC