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Net Neutrality: How Did We Let This Happen?
by Daniel Newman | December 14, 2017

Today the FCC voted along partisan lines to repeal regulatory provisions we had come to know as “Net Neutrality.” The purpose of Net Neutrality was to ensure an open internet where all users can enjoy the same quality of access. As a research and analysis firm in the Tech Industry, we are deeply saddened by this latest effort to weaken individual and business rights. We believe the FCC’s decision will put too much power into the hands of a few companies, and ultimately weaken the innovation ecosystem that relies on a free and open internet to grow and thrive.

Per Reddit CEO Steve Huffman: “If we don’t have net neutrality protections that enforce tenets of fairness online, you give internet service providers the ability to choose winners and losers.” He isn’t wrong. Giving a handful of companies rather than consumers and investors the power to pick winners and losers doesn’t bode well for the future of innovation, small business, and startups.

Today’s vote, led by FCC Chairman and former Verizon executive Ajit Pai, has been policy in the making for some time. His only real initiative since being named FCC chairman appears to have been to weaken internet protections and end net neutrality. Since taking office, Pai has behaved as if he were still working for ISPs, using his power and 3/2 party advantage to lift media ownership limits, reduce caps on how much providers can charge to business broadband customers, and minimize programs that gave greater broadband access to low-income households. The decision to end net neutrality is even more egregious: It is likely to result in huge disparities in pricing for everything from cable TV and internet packages to access to so-called “fast lanes” only larger enterprises with greater means will be able to afford. These changes appear to be mostly beneficial to the ISPs and select large businesses, at the expense of smaller companies and consumers.

While the vote may have been partisan, the decision itself was highly unpopular to large swaths of the population. 20 million individuals and businesses petitioned the FCC to stop this repeal, outlining their concerns and objections, but to no avail. Oddly, 2 million petitions in favor of repealing net neutrality rules appear to have been submitted though robo-submissions in the name of stolen and hacked identities. While this fraud was widely shared across public channels and should have raised a fair number of red flags about the integrity of the process, it was mostly ignored by federal agencies, including the FCC.

After the repeal took place Netflix, standing up for the importance of a Free Internet shared their sentiment on Twitter, which I wholeheartedly agree with:

“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.”

The FCC’s decision to end net neutrality feels apocalyptic to many, and not without cause. Leading enterprises and lawmakers were quick to react to the public outrage, promising to fight against this action. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson already plan to lead multi-state challenges to the FCC’s vote. Officials in California and Washington State are also taking steps to join in the effort as well as protect their states from the FCC’s decision. Scott Wiener (D-Ca) and Washington State governor Jay Inslee announced that they would be introducing legislation to make net neutrality state law under the onus that if the FCC won’t stand up for equality of internet access, their states will take matters into their own hands. Given how widely unpopular the FCC’s decision to end net neutrality was, other states are likely to follow.

Most of the services we enjoy today, like Netflix, Facebook, Uber and Amazon, could have only flourished under the types of protections that net neutrality guaranteed. Without these protections, the next generation of disruptors and innovators may find themselves shut out by a good ole’ boys club of incumbent companies holding the keys to the internet’s fast lanes. I shudder to think of the impact that stifling the next wave of innovation and startup capital might have on the US economy, to say nothing of our hindered ability to compete globally for top digital talent.

Having said all of that, maybe we worry too much and the FCC’s decision will ultimately lead to no perceptible changes in anything. Per Comcast Executive VP, David Cohen in a blog post he published this past week: “There is a lot of misinformation that is the end of the world as we know it for the internet…our internet service is not going to change.” Oh. Well, okay then. If Comcast says we have nothing to fear, we have nothing to worry about. After all, we all trust our ISPs (like Comcast) to do the right thing and have our best interests in mind, don’t we? Their business practices have always been so ethical and consumer driven!

I hope you read that last sentence with the same inch thick sarcasm by which I wrote it!

Image: Donkey Hotey via Flickr

Daniel Newman
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