The topic of net neutrality is dense and confusing, even for the tech-savvy. The essential point of the FCC proposal is that the Internet will be classified as a public telecommunications utility, meaning the government will be able to regulate it. The proposal also stipulates that broadband providers may not block/impair access to lawful content, applications or services and that providers may not favor some Internet traffic over other traffic in exchange for consideration—in other words, no "fast lanes."
With so much of the work of the communications industry now taking place online, its important to know how today's net neutrality vote could impact PR:
A future safeguard: Content providers—such as Apple, Google and Netflix—have been pushing the FCC for regulations on service providers—such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast—for a while now. Their argument is that consumers should have access to a reliable, fast Internet connection, and they see government protection, especially against the idea of "fast lanes," as the way to guarantee it.
For communicators who rely on the web to deliver important messages, regulations that tell service providers what they can and, more important, cannot do could be a welcomed sign that the government has your back against predatory service providers moving forward.
Potential chaos: As it currently stands, if a network needs more Internet bandwidth because of increased traffic, providers are free to bulk up their services, avoiding potential congestion and outages. Add in the proposed regulations and you have the potential for disaster, as companies will be forced to navigate red tape and prove that any new services they introduce into the market comply with the law. This is something service providers have never had to do before, and there will undoubtedly be growing pains.
What does this mean for PR? Imagine the main webpage for your yearly summit is down a week before the event. Now imagine your service provider can't get it fixed with reliability because the FCC has to approve their recently expanded service.
Revenge of analog: Despite reports of their imminent demise, traditional communications vehicles are alive and well, and they may be given a breath of new life thanks to the FCC. The proposed regulations could undermine investment in new web technology and infrastructure, and they could also lead to the congestion problems mentioned above.
If advancements on the web stagnate and if the Internet becomes unreliable, communicators may be forced to look away from social networks and live streams and back towards magazines, newspapers, television and even billboards to get their messages out.
Follow Brian Greene on Twitter: @bw_greene