This week we talked about various legislation and regulation surrounding the Internet. The reading and discussion felt more like we were attending law school than Communications. The topics discussed were fascinating, covering privacy, copyright, freedom of speech, citing various cases.
A key issue discussed was the repeal of Net Neutrality rules. Taking a look over the timeline of various regulation and legislation attempts, starting with the 1996 Telecommunications Act and ending with the repeal of Net Neutrality in 2018, the tug-of-war is ever-present as the government tries to balance the interests of the ISPs and consumers. (In “legalese”, the question is, whether access to the Internet is a utility (title I) or a service, (title II).)
I would like to focus on the companies caught in between – the innovators and emerging platforms.
Innovation itself is the pawn caught in the struggle between ISPs and consumers. ISPs fight to have more leverage and the ability to profit from their business. Consumers, on the other hand, require the right to unblocked, uninterrupted access to data and web sites, without any filtering or gatekeeping by the ISPs. And in the middle are the startups.
My own experience entails years of working with entrepreneurs as an investor, advisor and co-founder of a mobile app startup myself. I have first-hand experience going through the challenges of trying to reinvent and disrupt a market with a new offering. But it does not take years in the industry to understand that when given the opportunity, ISPs will form business partnerships with leading providers of services for mutual profit. With these partnerships in place, the doors will be shut preventing new startups from being able to pay the fees needed to the ISPs to offer them to their customers.
With that – and yes, this is a worst-case scenario — innovation will die. Entrepreneurs will not be able to raise capital to fund new businesses since VCs will be able to see several moves ahead how the new apps could so easily be blocked,) and as a result, all of us as consumers benefiting and enjoying the innovation and growth that the open, free Internet offers, will be affected.
This is why we need to keep and preserve net neutrality. The Internet prospers under these free conditions to everyone’s benefit. We cannot look at the narrow interests of a few — albeit very large — ISPs and sacrifice our future with these ISPs as our gatekeepers.