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Net neutrality – every voice counts

April 20, 2018 | By By Walter Knapp, CEO—Sovrn @wtknapp

In a matter of days, the 2015 Open Internet Order is set to be repealed by the FCC. This will give internet service providers (ISPs) the power to control how consumers use the internet. They will have free reign to prioritize, slow down, or block online services and set individual pricing for different types of traffic.

If it goes ahead, the repeal will obliterate net neutrality — the single most important attribute of the internet. Net neutrality ensures that the internet remains a level playing field where anyone can create and share content that can be accessed equally by all.

Without net neutrality, the internet is likely to be monopolized by mass media platforms, which are either owned by ISPs or have the money and influence to cut preferential deals with them. Smaller independent publishers could see visitor numbers and associated revenues plummet. Consumers will be reliant on the content of a select few who pay for control and preference — which is deeply concerning for the future of free speech. And advertisers will be compelled to use these generic platforms rather than reaching consumers though more specific and engaging channels.

The fight for a fair internet continues

The fight for net neutrality is far from over. Senators are attempting to overturn the repeal using the Congressional Review Act, requiring just one additional vote to reach a majority in the Senate. While the bill may struggle to pass the House of Representatives, it raises awareness of the issue. It is also a strong illustration of widespread support for net neutrality. Multiple lawsuits have also been filed against the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to repeal the order – backed by the Internet Association (IA), which represents Google, Facebook and Amazon – including one lawsuit filed by 21 state attorneys general.

In addition to these combined efforts, individual states are taking separate action. Washington is the first state to enact its own net neutrality rules, specifically prohibiting ISPs from blocking or slowing web content, as well as speeding up apps and services in exchange for money from developers or website owners. Another net neutrality bill was recently proposed in California. And it is even stricter than the original 2015 Open Internet Order as it would ban zero rating. That would mean exempting certain types of content from mobile data limits. In fact, action against the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules is being taken in 35 states, according to activist group Fight for the Future, including executive orders, filed lawsuits, and state legislation. It is as yet unclear whether the FCC or individual states have ultimate authority to oversee broadband internet services.

Stand together in support of net neutrality

Consumers, advertisers and publishers may think their individual voices won’t be heard in the debate around net neutrality. However, there are many ways to join the fight and make a real difference. Writing to, or calling congressional representatives and senators to express personal views is a first step. The website Battle for the Net is a great place to start. There are numerous petitions individuals can sign, as well as nationwide protests and meetings to take part in.

The legal and political debate around net neutrality will continue well after the repeal date of April 23 has passed. So, for anyone that values a free and open internet, where anyone can create and publish content to be accessed equally by all, standing together in support of this fundamental principle is essential.

Walter Knapp is the CEO of Sovrn – a fast growing, Boulder, Colorado based company helping on-line publishers succeed. Prior to Sovrn he was the Chief Operating Officer at Federated Media Publishing and Lijit Networks. With more than 20 years of business and operations management, Walter has been an investor as a partner and principal for two very successful venture capital funds. He has also built and led large field organizations for two public companies, Novell and Cambridge Technology partners. Walter regularly speaks about monetization and data strategies at industry events covering both online publishing and advertising. Walter holds a Master’s in Engineering from the University of Colorado in Boulder and a B.A. in History from Boston College.

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