It may have been the turning point for online business; others say it’s not that big a deal.
In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to overturn net neutrality protections instituted during the Obama administration. The rollback of protections has been hailed by some as welcome deregulation; others see a dangerous opportunity for internet providers to skew the online playing field.
Many consumer advocates have argued that if the rules get scrapped, broadband providers will begin selling the internet in bundles, not unlike how cable television is sold today. Want to access Facebook and Twitter? Under a bundling system, getting on those sites could require paying for a premium social media package.
In some countries, internet bundling is already happening. In October, Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, posted a screenshot on Twitter from a Portuguese mobile carrier that showed subscription plans with names like Social, Messaging and Video. He wrote that providers were “starting to split the net.”
As the laws have a direct impact on businesses operating online, some are using their considerable platforms to advocate for net neutrality and criticize the FCC’s decision.
Some companies tweeted their opposition to the rollback of regulation from their corporate social media accounts:
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
The FCC has voted to eliminate #NetNeutrality. It was at the core of an open Internet and essential to artists, the expansion of arts, and to the very creation of DeviantArt. This is the start of a longer battle and can be reversed in Congress. Learn more: https://t.co/9Kec8Goi78 pic.twitter.com/shU9T4qOwb
— DeviantArt (@DeviantArt) December 14, 2017
Some internet companies are vowing to fight:
Imgur believes that everyone, no matter who they are, what ISP they use, or how much money they make, deserves the chance to benefit from a free and open internet. #NetNeutrality
— Imgur (@imgur) December 14, 2017
Others—including AirBnB, Facebook and Microsoft—let their leaders do the talking:
The FCC’s vote to repeal net neutrality is wrong & disappointing. A free & open internet is critical to innovation, an open society, & widespread access to economic empowerment. @Airbnb will continue to speak out for net neutrality.
— Brian Chesky (@bchesky) December 14, 2017
The open internet benefits consumers, business & the entire economy. That’s jeopardized by the FCC’s elimination of #netneutrality protections today.
— Brad Smith (@BradSmi) December 14, 2017
The channels of choice for these communicators were Twitter and Facebook, though some used their own platforms, including Reddit.
Businesses that lobbied for the changes have stayed low-key on the issue, opting to speak directly to customer’s fears about what the deregulation could mean for their internet use.
They also sought smaller audiences, giving statements to online publications but avoiding big social media pushes.
Comcast sent a statement to TechCrunch, saying, “We commend Chairman Pai for his leadership and FCC Commissioners O’Rielly and Carr for their support in adopting the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, returning to a regulatory environment that allowed the Internet to thrive for decades by eliminating burdensome Title II regulations and opening the door for increased investment and digital innovation. Today’s action does not mark the ‘end of the Internet as we know it;’ rather it heralds in a new era of light regulation that will benefit consumers.”
AT&T released a statement saying, “For more than a decade, under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, AT&T has consistently made clear that we provide broadband service in an open and transparent way. We do not block websites, nor censor online content, nor throttle or degrade traffic based on the content, nor unfairly discriminate in our treatment of internet traffic.”
Sprint asserted that the issue is complicated, and it commended the FCC for its efforts.
Sprint issued a statement saying, “Sprint applauds the FCC’s efforts to simplify a complex and challenging issue, while balancing multiple stakeholder interests in this important proceeding. Our position has been and continues to be that competition is the best way to promote an open internet. Complex and vague regulations previously created uncertainties around net neutrality compliance. The Commission’s decision today eliminates those uncertainties and appears to allow Sprint to manage our network and offer competitive products.”
Companies with active online audiences sought to strike a relatable tone, like Reddit CEO Steve Huffman and co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who wrote:
Nevertheless, today’s vote is the beginning, not the end. While the fight to preserve net neutrality is going to be longer than we had hoped, this is far from over.
Many of you have asked what comes next. We don’t exactly know yet, but it seems likely that the FCC’s decision will be challenged in court soon, and we would be supportive of that challenge. It’s also possible that Congress can decide to take up the cause and create strong, enforceable net neutrality rules that aren’t subject to the political winds at the FCC. Nevertheless, this will be a complex process that takes time.
What is certain is that Reddit will continue to be involved in this issue in the way that we know best: seeking out every opportunity to amplify your voices and share them with those who have the power to make a difference.
No company has taken as drastic a stand as Patagonia, which rebranded its entire website for a political message, and many companies may simply be giving net neutrality lip service. Consumers will certainly watch for actions to match words as efforts move to Congress to try and reinstitute the internet regulations. (Online petitions are already flooding social media.)
PR Daily readers, what’s your position on net neutrality, and how do you see the FCC vote affecting marketing and public relations? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section.