Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is scheduled to vote on rolling back Obama-era net neutrality rules. Expected to pass, along party lines (the FCC has a Republican majority), the current rules prevent internet service providers from blocking or slowing down websites or apps. Additionally, the likely soon-to-be-repealed rules prohibit providers to give websites or apps a level of priority over others.
Even if the repeal passes today, despite millions of public comments imploring chair Ajit Pai and the rest of the FCC to vote against ditching the rules, it is expected that advocacy and other groups will seek legal and other action to prevent the so-called ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ order from moving forward.
As it relates to the marketing world, questions still remain on how the repeal of net neutrality will affect brands, consumers and agencies. The Drum asked the wider industry for their take on what it could mean for each going into today’s vote.
Should brands be worried about the repeal of net neutrality? Why or why not?
The death of net neutrality signals the further rise of the telecom industry. So if you're Verizon, AT&T, or any other telecom provider, you've won. They will be able to shape the most powerful media outlet in the world, controlling access to everyone's data. Every other brand will have to play ball with their vision of the internet, which is likely to be more limited in creativity.
- Lisa Baldini, director of communications strategy, Barton F. Graf
Brands should be worried about the repeal the same way they should be worried about diversity. With the web being bogged down by gatekeeper ISPs, the reach to our customers is at the mercy of how much you’re willing to spend to reach them. Your advertising has the potential to only be seen in the echo chamber of those privileged enough to afford it.
- Rob Erskine, lead creative technologist, Hill Holliday
Absolutely! At its core the net neutrality repeal threatens competition, and ultimately quality. It's going to create even bigger hurdles for smaller brands with smaller budgets to try and get a foot in the door, thus widening the already evident divides in the market. Smart and scrappy advertising becomes even less impactful and brand dollars will mean everything.
- Anisha Naik, account director (Mozilla), Fetch
Yes, all brands should be worried about the repeal of Net Neutrality. The internet was built on the concept of decentralization, allowing for free-flowing information and thoughts. If Net Neutrality is repealed, this is stripped and eliminates the rights to an equal playing field, likely killing small brands.
- Rich Kahn, chief executive and co-founder, eZanga
Depending on who you ask, this is either the end of the internet, or a powerful catalyst to drive innovation. Brands should be concerned about how smaller media companies’ traffic and content may be impacted at the expense of larger, more powerful companies who can afford to pay the “toll” associated with the prioritization of content. This has the potential to make large media properties bigger than they are today – disrupting the publisher ecosystem.
- Mike Caprio, chief growth officer, Sizmek
What should the main concerns of consumers be about the repeal of net neutrality?
If the path to deregulation/consolidation continues, imagine where it will lead – we will live in a world with one or two channels over one or two carriers – carriers that will be empowered to slow down, limit or even decline to carry any content of their choosing, and that is an extremely dangerous thing.This is a worst-case scenario for consumers, brands and agencies alike.
- Katie Fiore, head of conversion optimization, Syzygy
Consumers should be concerned about a private company deciding what content gets delivered to them at what speed. We pay internet providers for certain speeds and bandwidths. That should be the only dictate deciding how fast content gets delivered. And if companies choose to prioritize certain content over others, consumers should be aware so they vote with their feet.
- Susan Noonan, executive director of media and analytics, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners
It isn’t hard to imagine large brands buying preferential access to their sites and services from ISP’s. We've already seen the willingness to do this from T-Mobile, who last year started offering unlimited data streaming to select music services. This seems like a great deal for the consumer, but imagine being a streaming service not included in that package. Customers will go where they can save money, access more content, or consume that content faster.
- Brian Lovett, director of product, VigLink
Consumers should be very concerned about their loss of control over what they do and see online, and in particular the possible loss of access to smaller sites and applications. In addition, repeal will likely allow for more pricing structures in the market. While there could be some benefit to consumers in that regard, there will almost certainly be more price confusion. Consumers have consistently voiced support for net neutrality for exactly those reasons.
- Tim O’Mara, director of strategy and insights, Copacino+Fujikado
Frankly, there shouldn’t be concern – there should be celebration. The Internet has provided what consumers have come to know and expect from businesses “born online” by bringing new innovations to market. A vibrant Internet industry, with its entrepreneurs and investors, will naturally addresses consumers’ concerns. Absent any regulations inhibiting investment opportunities, entrepreneurs and investors can build businesses that meet the wide and varied interests of consumers—not what is mandated by government regulations.
- Matt Langie, chief marketing officer, Mapp Digital
What do you think the FCC action may mean for agencies and the use of data to influence their campaigns?
With the repeal of internet privacy rules, broadband companies no longer have to get subscriber permission to use their data.Without regulations, this opens up a free market to internet service providers for anyone who is willing to pay for access to the data.Long-term this would likely be disastrous, but short term, it could be good for advertisers/agencies who want to use data to influence their campaigns.
- Chris Hogue, vice-president, Isobar US
Do I really think data will or will not be protected fully? No. When government websites and data centers get hacked, the ability to "protect" our data at a higher point from lack of neutrality is bunk.
- Jen Brady, vice-president, media, Periscope
The repeal of net neutrality will create another variable in campaign planning and delivery - paying for access, or aligning with those who are paying for access. There will be increased complexity for agencies and brands to manage, as well as further opportunity for fraud on behalf of those vying for access. When the internet goes pay-to-play, it will create further tension between brands and agencies already battling over transparency.
- Andy Berkenfield, chief executive, partner, Duncan Channon
Data has become a central role in any advertising campaign. A shift in the access to data and online usage could result in fewer consumers to target online, which would drive up costs and hinder overall strategy at agencies.
- Jeffrey Finch, chief financial officer and co-founder, Choozle
From the brand and agency perspective, the repeal of net neutrality should not cause concern in the short or long term. As an industry, brand safety (e.g. YouTube videos that feature negative or offensive content) and brand fraud should remain our immediate concerns. Most of the brands we work with have the best possible access to the best services because their ads pay for most of the content consumption.
- Warren Zenna, executive vice-president and managing director, Mobext, Havas Media Group