Why Net Neutrality matters (in 5 declarations and a plea)

FCC Chairman Genachowski (right) swearing in Ajit Pai as the new Commissioner at FCC HQ / Wikimedia

Let me start with this: 23 million citizens expressed their opinions on Net Neutrality through the FCC’s open commenting system.

The pioneering geniuses who invented the internet published a vigorous defense of the existing rules while also schooling chairman Ajit Pai and his supporters on how the technology actually works. Needless to say, the debate around Net Neutrality is brimming with smart, informed, sensible and passionate pleas in defense of keeping the internet open, fair and free from meddling.

But in case you’ve been asleep, on the fence or just too complacent to get engaged, I’ve collected a few thoughts from SoDA’s global community of digital agency leaders on why a reversal of Net Neutrality threatens the very foundation upon which we work.

The internet is a meritocracy for innovators, not an oligarchy for the power hungry

The internet fuels experimentation, competition and innovation. There’s a reason ISPs, cable companies and telcos rank near the bottom of literally every single customer satisfaction index out there – monopolistic companies suck at figuring out what customers want and need.

“Consider the proposition of a Comcast or Time Warner improving the throughput to homes for streaming media services that they own or partner with while throttling their competitors? Performance has a massive impact on streaming services, more so than most web pages. A reversal of Net Neutrality protections could become a massive tax on the OTT (over the top) publishers that are creating the next generation of cable services and building new and innovative direct-to-consumer experiences.”

~ Russ Whitman, Chief Strategy Officer at Ratio/Globant (Seattle)

The internet is an open playground for creators, not a walled garden for distributors.

The internet puts power and possibility into the hands of creators while radically diminishing the role of distributors. The last thing the world needs is more walls (literally and figuratively) separating creators from the consumers that support them.

“We foresee digital projects facing increased costs as creators pay higher premiums to reach commercial-scale audiences, or instead are forced to rely on a handful of closed platforms who have negotiated access in advance. It will invert the power structure of the internet as we know it, taking power from consumers and creators and handing it to a handful of giant corporations.

For agencies, it will reduce the number of projects where we can flex our creative muscles - instead of independent websites and apps, new campaigns will need to be run on centralized systems accessed through ISP toll roads with larger shares of the budget going to platforms who restrict access to their audiences on a pay-to-play basis.”

~ Gareth Price, Technical Director at Ready Set Rocket (New York)

The internet is a bustling marketplace for ideas, not a private auction at Sotheby’s

The internet empowers social engagement and grassroots organization. A reversal of Net Neutrality rules threatens to muzzle the voices of those seeking to make a difference in the world through activism and the currency of ideas… not just commercial viability.

“The most fulfilling work we do is caused-based, often with non-profits or funded by small grants from corporate partners with a conscience. They come to us to make noise and mobilize communities to take action. These types of partners have far fewer resources than traditional clients, and they rely on us to help them leverage (often open source) low cost, but effective systems, tools and tactics to further their mission. Without a level playing field, it could become exponentially harder, and cost-prohibitive, for these important partners to be heard.”

~ Chris Mele, Managing Director at Stink Studios (New York)

The internet is an equal opportunity bandwidth buffet, not a prix fixe tasting menu

The internet offers an infinite array of choices, combinations and choose-your-own-adventure paths for the curious. Bundles might be great for firewood and fancy French meals but the idea stinks for content, advertising and entertainment. Does anyone really want to see a rebirth of the cable TV model?

“The end of Net Neutrality could mean the destruction of advertising as we know it and pay-to-play will impact how the internet fundamentally works. Once bandwidth becomes a commodity that can be manipulated, brands will see an immediate impact to their marketing budgets. Funds will be diverted to ensure things move fast enough to provide a decent online user experience. Sites that rely on ad revenue will take a hit because their sites rely on download-heavy ad tech that increases their bandwidth needs. Search rankings are affected by site speed as well. Smaller brands won’t be able to compete. The internet could suddenly look a lot like cable TV—something we all have been cutting the cord from in droves.”

~ Theo Fanning, Executive Creative Director at Traction (San Francisco)

The internet is for everybody, not just those that can afford it.

The internet is a vital part of our society, democracy and economy. Limiting access will disproportionately impact low-income families and limit the potential for every human to learn, grow and thrive in a digital culture.

“We care a lot about net neutrality, as do our clients. But it’s not just the tech sector that would falter without net neutrality; we believe equal access to the internet is a human right that needs to be protected. Right here on our doorstep, we have low-income families across the United States who can get online thanks to the program Lifeline, which subsidizes internet services for those who otherwise couldn't afford it. In February, the FCC chairman revoked the decision that nine additional companies could join Lifeline, effectively starting to chip away at a service that over 13 million Americans are eligible for.”

~ Amie Pascal, Executive Director at Instrument (Portland)

By the time you read this piece, it is very likely that chairman Pai will have forced a vote to overturn Net Neutrality and alter the digital landscape as we know it – favoring closed control and monopolistic tendencies over entrepreneurial energy and open access. We deserve better. The internet was born with a revolutionary soul and it’s our responsibility to protect (and continually claw back) this inalienable right and freedom to roam. Please fight to keep the internet free, fair and open for all.

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