The Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal Obama-era Net Neutrality laws, enabling internet service providers to freely charge consumers for their online experiences.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai, and commissioners Michael Reilly and Brendan Carr voted to repeal the provisions that allowed for an internet free of interference from providers. Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn voted against, with Rosenworcel citing the 24m comments cited before the proceedings including over two million coming from compromised accounts and Russian email addresses, with even more stripped from public record.
Rosenworcel considered that a problem, saying: "I think our record has been corrupted and our process for public participation lacks integrity. Nineteen state attorneys general agree. They have written us demanding we halt our vote until we investigate and get to the bottom of this mess. Identity theft is a crime under state and federal law—and while it is taking place this agency has turned a blind eye to its victims and callously told our fellow law enforcement officials it will not help."
Commissioner Clyburn agreed, stating its implications for small business owners and others who depend on an open internet for survival. She also spoke of the effect on marginalized communities of color who've used secure messaging platforms and online video outlets for activist purposes, saying that they "rely on platforms like the internet to communicate, because traditional outlets do not consider their issues or concerns, worthy of any coverage. It was through social media that the world first heard about Ferguson, Missouri, because legacy news outlets did not consider it important until the hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) started trending."
Chairman Pai, who joked earlier this week at a Federal Communications Bar Association gathering about being a puppet for Verizon, called the Net Neutrality Rules a mistake, saying, "for one thing, there was no problem to solve. The Internet wasn’t broken in 2015 (when Obama's FCC ruled that the internet was a public utility). We weren’t living in a digital dystopia. To the contrary, the Internet is perhaps the one thing in American society we can all agree has been a stunning success."
He said that by returning to the "light-touch" regulations of the Bill Clinton administration, the FCC is "helping consumers and promoting competition. Broadband providers," he continued, "will have stronger incentives to build networks, especially in unserved areas, and to upgrade networks to gigabit speeds and 5G. This means there will be more competition among broadband providers. It also means more ways that startups and tech giants alike can deliver applications and content to more users. "
Reaction to the ruling has been understandably swift, with Netflix responding through Twitter:
We’re disappointed in the decision to gut #NetNeutrality protections that ushered in an unprecedented era of innovation, creativity & civic engagement. This is the beginning of a longer legal battle. Netflix stands w/ innovators, large & small, to oppose this misguided FCC order.
— Netflix US (@netflix) December 14, 2017
Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook had this to say on the ruling:
Sheryl Sandberg has weighed in on the #NetNeutrality vote pic.twitter.com/a8so9WEXdp
— ryan mac (@RMac18) December 14, 2017
The implications for the marketing industry are vast, with a couple of executives saying the losers in the long run are ISPs themselves. Andy Vogel, NetBase's head of digital products, said advertisers are now forced to open up their pocketbooks. Tom Beck, executive director of SoDA, plead to marketers to fight for the internet to retain its revolutionary soul.
Michael Patterson, chief executive of Plixer, said “it is a giant step backwards for the greater internet community. This is a prime example of lobbyists having too much power in Congress and US representatives not understanding the ramifications that these decisions can lead to. Creating choice and competition, as the FCC has said this will do, requires there to be consumer options. For most consumers, their broadband provider is their only viable option for internet access. Service providers now have the ability to take an a la carte approach to service delivery, which will result in higher consumer cost."
The ruling is recent, but the reaction from state legislature was also swift, with Washington State already passing legislature protecting the open internet from ISPs with other states soon to follow. Attorneys general from various states (19 in all) had already brought lawsuits challenging the FCC's vote. This fight may draw itself out to the 2018 midterm elections and beyond, but will have instant implications for agencies, the media, and their relationship entering the new year.