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The net neutrality issue is back.
The FCC and its Chairman, Republican Ajit Pai, recently voted on a proposal to end the 2015 classification of internet service as an essential public utility. Americans may comment here until July 17th, and return comments are due August 16th. Once the commenting period is through, proceedings will begin to, essentially, unburden the FCC from its regulatory responsibilities of broadband internet. So, what does the deregulation of internet service mean for digital marketers? How could these new rules affect digital marketing? Let’s look at some of the theories.
The FCC’s proposal, at its core, reclassifies Internet Service as a “telecommunications service”, leaving it to be loosely regulated by the FTC as it had been previously (before 2015). Currently, the service is classified as Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996: broadcast services.
Why would this even be a question?
Well, unfortunately, the law is out-of-date and the internet was something entirely different when laws regulating it were first written. Now we are left trying to shove a square into a round hole, so to speak.
We all use the internet to communicate, so why don’t most of us want to classify the internet as a telecommunications service? Well, as a broadcast service, the internet is a pulpit from which content is spewed out upon the masses.
Everyone is connected and online. Everyone.
To ensure that information is an American right that is met – as it so desperately needs to be to promote a healthy, capitalist economy – the government regulates broadcast services to ensure they are working for the greater good and in-tune with the Constitution.
Ultimately, the law should be better at defining the now vast realm that ISPs inhabit.
The argument against gutting Net Neutrality
First, websites could no longer have an even playing field without regulation and there would be no incentive for small businesses or small providers to invest in websites and digital marketing. Advertising will rule, as it does for television and radio, but the art of content marketing could eventually be completely unnecessary.
Most ISPs own large content machines and would have the ability to create tiered service experiences favoring their own content over their competitors’, no matter how large or small those competitors might be. Say goodbye to search strategy – say hello to paying ISPs premiums just to give your content basic exposure.
Second, Title I classification means that the FTC would be regulating ISPs and many see this as a joke. The FTC would not be able to regulate ISPs because ISPs would be known as “common carriers” at this point. Common carriers carry traffic impartially and without interference, much like telephone companies do. Unfortunately, ISPs have been known to interfere with communication traffic and are discriminatory in nature. The law exempts ISPs from even being regulated by the FTC, in this way.
The argument FOR gutting Net Neutrality
Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman: “…what Americans deserve…is, not an agency that sways with the political winds, but a real broadband deployment agenda. We need a proactive, concrete, bipartisan, dedicated effort to deliver digital opportunity to every American who wants it.”
Deregulation could mean that smaller ISPs would have less red tape to cut through when investing and growing their companies and technology. Over the course of the last year and a half, some report that broadband investment and innovation has plateaued. Americans might be shooting themselves in the foot by asking for a fiercely regulated industry.
Some are also critical of regulation, at all, preferring a Freedman-style economy in which everyone competes freely and openly, letting consumers drive down prices and demand create competition. There is a reason, though, that utilities are regulated. Some things are just too important to quality-of-life to be left unchecked.
It all comes down to competition
No matter what side of the argument you’re on, and that’s how this will ultimately affect digital marketing. Either that deregulation increases competition by decreasing the barriers to entry, or that regulation will increase competition by limiting the almighty power of these, now giant, few internet service providers that we all rely on. It’s up to Americans to decide whether internet service is an essential right or simply another way to communicate.
While you decide, check out this impressive list of startups that asked the FCC to maintain net neutrality, or this letter from Senate Democrats urging Americans to take notice, or this Netflix, Amazon, and Etsy-backed online demonstration slated for July 12th.