Why net neutrality is integral to content marketing

It really didn't seem possible, but net neutrality, the promise of a free and open internet, is as threatened today as it was when I started writing about the issue over eight years ago.

Back then, a junior senator from Illinois was promising that, if elected president, a net neutrality guarantee would be a year one priority in the White House.

Yet after all this time, and not very successful efforts to stir up national conversation around this critical issue, the FCC is saying that a pay-to-play fast lane doesn't compromise net neutrality. This despite the fact that as far back as 2007, Barack Obama went on record rejecting any possibility that "gatekeepers" would someday "charge different rates to different websites." Such a system, he averred, "destroys one of the best things about the internet, which is that there is this incredible equality there."

What's all this got to do with content marketing? Plenty.

If the current FCC plan goes ahead, gatekeepers will indeed charge different rates to different websites. The result won't be that those websites are "faster," but rather all other properties will be "too slow" (and this in a country that already ranks No. 29 in global broadband speed, trailing even Estonia and the Czech Republic).

And because content marketing is defined as owned media (i.e., content a brand creates and distributes on channels it owns or largely controls), this makes net neutrality a big deal indeed.

The initial impact on content marketing will be two-pronged.

First, the channels that brands own will drag. When a few well-feathered, deep-pocketed properties can afford to pay for the fast lane, it's not so much going to seem like they're going fast as much as everyone else is going too slowly. Just as we know impatient users don't sit around waiting for ads, images, and videos to load but (as stats bear out) bail on sites that are slow to load, so too will this effect chill the reach and efficacy of owned media.

Saving the internet means equal access to the means of distribution, not just to the ability to own property there.

The second chilling effect a non-neutral internet will have on content marketing is on those other channels -- the ones brands don't own but rather control (i.e., social media). There is, of course, no social media marketing without content, and already there's a hue and cry from some quarters around the fact that Facebook, for one, is beginning to charge for content distribution. (You guys expected...what, exactly?)

Those pay-to-play fees for Promoted Posts and such, not to mention ad rates, certainly won't be going down when web properties are burdened with the additional fixed overhead of getting into the fast lane.

This, of course, applies only to the deep-pocketed properties that will pay. Some won't pay and may not survive as a result. Other up-and-comers will never have a chance. The next Facebook, or Google, or who-knows-what may never make it unless it is able to pony up, early and often.

The prospect of an internet that isn't free and equally open to all comers has kept me up at night since 2007. The issue may be a new one to you. If you're in content marketing, or any type of digital marketing at all, the time to take action has never been more important or more urgent.

Sign petitions. Write to congressmen. Lobby the FCC. Or risk major discontentment.

Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, digital advertising/media, for Altimeter Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Rebecca Lieb at @lieblink and Altimeter Group at @altimetergroup.

 

Comments

Justin Belmont
Justin Belmont May 21, 2014 at 2:21 PM

It's scary to think what would happen if a pay-to-play fast lane were set in place. People are already impatient online and want immediate access to any content they are viewing. If a site is "too slow," they won't stick around and wait, but will move on to the next site. As a content marketing agency, Prose Media knows how crucial net neutrality can be. Thanks for sharing this information, Rebecca.