The fate of net neutrality has hung in the balance since the Federal Communications Commission’s Ajit Pai stepped in, gunning for the measure. But despite the commissioner’s efforts, the Senate voted Wednesday to nullify the FCC’s repeal.
The premise of net neutrality is to bar internet service providers from prioritizing traffic speeds to certain cherry-picked sites and services, effectively keeping the online space as neutral territory. The measure gained support under the Obama administration, but landed on the current administration’s hit list of rollbacks for rules established by the Trump predecessor.
Members of the Senate voted 52-47 in favor of passing a resolution to overturn the FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” order.
“Today is a monumental day,” Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said during the session. “Today we show the American people who sides with them, and who sides with the powerful special interests and corporate donors who are thriving under this administration.”
The matter isn’t closed, however, as the House is not expected to vote the same way. Ultimately, all eyes are still fixed on June 11, the day of net neutrality’s scheduled demise.
Consumers familiar with net neutrality likely know it from viral videos, ads and commercials portraying the issue as a matter of fast lanes and slow lanes for internet traffic. It’s hard to overestimate the impact of connection speeds on online business. If the tech or retail giants, with their large coffers, pay more to guarantee that people can reach their sites and services faster than others, the effect on the competitive landscape would likely be extreme.
“The idea of repealing net neutrality has a lot of risk,” said Michael Priem, founder and chief executive officer of Modern Impact, a Minneapolis-based ad firm specializing in omnichannel marketing and machine learning for programmatic advertising.
“It has more to do with an understanding of who will own today’s marketplace, who controls the content, and who will control the pipes and utilities that will serve that content,” he said.
The debate over whether internet access should be considered a utility, and therefore require regulation, has been debated for years. Internet service providers choosing to hobble some traffic while accelerating others could do well to line their pockets, but critics are concerned that it would unfairly disadvantage other businesses and create an environment for monopolistic practices.
“What retail brands already understand is that there’s a massive move to content,” Priem added. “The customer, through the digital experience, is more important than ever. That’s not going to change. [The stakes] are explicit and honest interactions between them and their customers.
“Right now, they don’t have to worry about things like bandwidth. It would add a whole other variable.”