Did Net Neutrality fall into a food coma?

The FCC's Net Neutrality decision has sparked strong opinion on the internet

Sometimes publicists have no choice but to release bad news for their clients. If something is going to break, and there’s no way to prevent the news from getting out, the best thing to do is release the news on a Friday.

Why? Simple: everyone’s thinking about the weekend. If the news is juicy, likely to get lots of coverage, reporters feel pressure to get the news out first lest their competitors beat them to the story. It’s a catch 22, and PR 101. Dump the news on a Friday, and it’s old news by Monday.

That’s basically what the FCC have done in announcing the end of Obama-era Net Neutrality rules. Only in this case, there will be five days and a lot of tryptophan between this news and next Monday.

“The FCC will no longer be in the business of micromanaging business models and pre-emptively prohibiting services and applications and products that could be pro-competitive,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai told Reuters.

Turkeys are dumb, the internet Isn’t

That’s one way of looking at it. Nearly 22 million comments issued from American consumers directly to the FCC in opposition to the move, prove there’s another. The second largest wave (by my unofficial count) of opposition was made abundantly clear on Reddit, where last night a massive collaborated effort by hundreds of Reddit moderators led to the image below - a complete takeover of the “front page of the internet,” aka Reddit’s homepage.

The lesson? Old school PR tactics won’t be enough to silence American consumers. That includes lofty rhetoric about lessening competitive restraints (on ISP’s, mind you, while potentially limiting a whole host of companies - who don’t employ lobbyists). If Reddit is to be believed, hardly anybody is falling for it. That includes news outlets like InfoWars, which according to The Daily Beast, may be among the losers if the FCC changes the rules.

“Experts say, however, sites like InfoWars and fringe communities like 4chan would likely be the first to have their websites slowed down by telecoms in the new plan...”

Why? Because ISP’s like Comcast own news outlets like NBC News. This may amount to hand-wringing, but the fact that InfoWars is in favor of protections set by the Obama administration is telling. The internet is not playing partisan politics.

If you’re confused about what Net Neutrality actually means, you’re not alone. Listening to Pai make his case on NPR this morning, one would not come away with a clear understanding of why the matter is even up for debate. This is the best case he could make:

“A healthcare startup could pay to prioritize the traffic of its patients who are being monitored remotely: ‘That could be perk,’ he says.”

Pai’s publicist could, and should, have armed him with better cases than that.

The simplest explanation for what Net Neutrality protects is to think about your local roads and highways. Imagine there were tolls erected on every highway and side street (on top of the taxes you already pay to keep them in good shape), where the tolls to use the highway were higher than those for the side streets. It’s reasonable to assume that only the individuals and businesses who could afford to use the highways would, relegating those who couldn’t afford the highway toll to the slower side streets. They’re still paying for the right, by the way. This would undoubtedly stifle small businesses and lower income commuters, limiting their growth potential and generally making their lives more cumbersome.

Voters wouldn’t stand for it, and no amount of tryptophan is going to silence them in this case, either. In PR terms, it’s a classic case of old school versus new school, and in the war-of-words that the Net Neutrality issue has become, the kids are clearly winning. Whether that will translate into protections for a free and open internet won’t be clear until a vote on December 14.

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