Amazon, Kickstarter, Etsy, Mozilla and other tech giants are planning a “day of action” on July 12 to oppose efforts to undo net neutrality regulations by Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai.
As national momentum grows, the fight for a free and open Internet already has garnered local support. More than a dozen Kansas City-area firms have joined a nationwide alliance of startups supporting net neutrality, a principle that internet providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.
The startups specifically are taking issue with Pai’s actions to open debate on reversing the Title II rules that are used to enforce net neutrality on internet service providers. More than 1,000 U.S. startups have joined Engine Advocacy, Techstars and Y Combinator in signing a letter sent to Pai that calls for a free and open Internet.
“Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the Internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market,” the letter reads. “They could impede traffic from our services in order to favor their own services or established competitors. Or they could impose new tolls on us, inhibiting consumer choice. Those actions directly impede an entrepreneur’s ability to ‘start a business, immediately reach a worldwide customer base, and disrupt an entire industry.’ Our companies should be able to compete with incumbents on the quality of our products and services, not our capacity to pay tolls to Internet access providers.”
Chris Brown, the founder of Venture Legal, is among the group of area entrepreneurs supporting net neutrality. An attorney and tech leader in Kansas City, Brown said that net neutrality is important because it creates a level playing field for both new startups and existing corporations. Furthermore, Brown said he’s concerned with Pai’s moves because Venture Legal’s primary focus is representing startups whose businesses could be adversely affected.
Brown added that relaxed net neutrality rules would stifle competition.
“Without net neutrality, Internet service providers can serve as gatekeepers and prevent new entrants from challenging incumbents in a market,” he said. “That reduces competition and harms consumers, labor markets, and the economy. They can do this by discriminating against the new entrant in the form of excessive fees and or outright discrimination. … The end result is very bad for our economy. It will stunt growth among startups and small businesses, which are the primary drivers of our economic growth.”
Ryan Weber, president the KC Tech Council, said his organization that represents the area tech industry is waiting to see effects of the proposed changes. Weber said there’s no certainty how a regulatory shift could affect startups and other tech firms.
“If net neutrality goes away, the impact on startups and small- to medium-sized tech firms would be unclear,” Weber said. “It is fair to assume that some internet providers will play favorites because they can, legally. However, it is also unclear what they would gain. Like all businesses, they’ll have to listen to the customer. In this case, a neutral provider would have an extreme competitive advantage.”
A native Kansan, Pai visited Kansas City in 2015 as part of a national tour chatting with entrepreneurs to discuss the effects of high-speed Internet. In that conversation, Pai discussed his concerns of “politicizing” net neutrality.
“One of the concerns I had was that we’ve had a bipartisan consensus (on net neutrality) in this country going back to the Clinton administration that the Internet should be unfettered from federal and state regulation,” he said previously. “As a result of that, we’ve seen something like $1.5 trillion in investments in our networks over the last 15 years. … Broadband being politicized is the worst thing that can happen to arguably one of the greatest free market success stories of the 21st Century. We take it for granted how far we’ve come over the last 25 years regarding broadband innovation, and I’d hate to see that fall into political affiliations or talking points.”