Since 2010 CONNECT, on behalf of our startups and member organizations, has been advocating for an open and free internet. As the FCC gets ready to vote on proposed rules to change the way the internet is currently governed, we need to ask, what does an open and free internet actually mean? The internet that we use today, which has brought us companies like Google, Netflix and Reddit, is an open and free internet. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as AT&T and Cox Communications provide the fiber that connects us to peering companies such as Level 3, who then work with content providers (i.e. Netflix) to deliver movies, music, etc. to the consumer. The fiber and hardware provide a web of connectivity that is constantly delivering bits of information from one end point to another, to another, and on and on.
Innovation occurs in every aspect of the internet. ISPs employ next generation engineering to their networks so that content providers can deliver faster and more reliably. The open and free internet, as we know it today, has changed almost every aspect of our lives; we are now more connected to the world than at any other time in our history.
So why all the divisiveness over Net Neutrality? We all want the same thing, to be able to access or provide content for the world to see and use. But on February 26th, the FCC will vote on regulations that will change the way the internet is governed – from an information service to a telecommunications utility service under a section of law called Title II that was written in 1934. How this change in regulation will affect the internet that we know and love today is yet to be seen. Some say that the stricter regulation of Title II will enable equal access to all content at the same speed, without interference from the ISP – leveling the playing field. Others, and CONNECT sits on this side, worry that without the ISP having control over the fiber they laid to connect us, large content providers will dominate the internet highways, squeezing innovative startups out. CONNECT took the position of opposing the reclassification of the internet back in 2010 because we recognized the harmful impact this would have on startups and innovation. CONNECT has always and will continue to put startups first in our advocacy.
The internet has revolutionized the way we work, play and socialize – it has provided for a whole new economy that creates jobs and allows us to communicate with people all over the world. But giving the government the right to control this revolutionary tool will not encourage more innovation – it will deter it. Strict government regulations will inevitably result in higher prices and less service for consumers as well as have an adverse impact on small providers and upstart competitors trying to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. There needs to be balance between the ISPs and the content providers but a restrictive regulatory environment that favors one over the other is not the best approach. ISPs want the ability to bring the internet into our businesses and homes and content providers want the ability to deliver their services free and unfettered. But this is a business arrangement that should be determined in the open marketplace not behind the closed doors of a government agency.
CONNECT, in a letter to the FCC and Congressional leaders, stated “But if there is to be action, it should be Congress – not the FCC – that creates a legal framework to preserve for all players the right to experiment with innovative content delivery methods and business models, rapid technological advancement, evolving consumer demand and Internet usage, demonstrated investment incentives.” As we write this, the FCC still has not released their proposed regulations to the public. At least in Congress, we will have the ability to wrangle out the details in committee hearings with all sides coming together.