About two years ago, I wrote an article for Inc. Magazine warning of the danger to the content neutrality of the Internet. At the time, the FCC was considering a move that would essentially divide the Internet into two traffic lanes—one for big business and one for everyone else. That meant Internet Service Providers could create “fast lanes” for preferred companies or content, leaving small businesses, charities, and individual initiatives to wither on the old, slow networks.
Along with many other leaders in tech, I felt an overwhelming responsibility to speak out and make sure that the Internet remained open and free. Thankfully, the voices of tech, along with four million individuals who also wrote to the FCC, made a difference and the catastrophe was averted. Now however, just 2 years later, the open Internet is once again under threat by the new administration. It’s Groundhog’s Day all over again.
To help individual and small business voices be heard, GoDaddy, along with hundreds of other technology companies, is participating on July 12th in a “Day of Action on Net Neutrality.” The day was created to raise awareness for everyone who accesses the Internet to get informed on the new danger we face, to share the news on their social networks and to make their voice heard once more commenting on the FCC’s proposal here before the deadline of July 18.
A Free Internet is the Free Economy
The equalizing force of the open Internet, known broadly as “Net Neutrality” is once again on the FCC’s table and nothing less than our long-term economic well-being is at stake. As I’ve argued in the past, the open Internet has been the greatest force for positive economic and social change I’ve seen in my lifetime. It connects people to ideas, marketplaces and one another.
No one has felt this equalizing force of the Internet more than small, independent ventures. Over the past three decades, we’ve seen countless businesses catapulted from obscurity to success purely by the power of the open Internet.
Today our economy is in the midst of another revolution that marks a massive shift in the way society operates. The ubiquity of Internet access and impartial content delivery gives every business the unparalleled opportunity to succeed. With an idea, some initiative, tons of grit and virtually no money, an individual can create a venture that sustains themselves and their family. We’re transforming into a digital economy that is powered by billions of individual ideas and efforts. It’s an economy that depends on the fairness and accessibility of the Internet. The move once again by the FCC to introduce fast lanes would stifle innovation and growth — and leave this revolution stalled on the side of the road.
Unfortunately, the odds seem stacked against us this time around. There’s a new sheriff in town at the FCC, and he is radically different from the last. In 2015, the Chairman of the FCC was Tom Wheeler. It took a lot of convincing, but ultimately Chairman Wheeler came around, writing in an article for Wired that protecting the open Internet “assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.” Despite Chairman Wheeler’s late-found convictions, the FCC vote was still 3-2 to protect what made the internet great since HTTP: was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989.
One of the two dissenting votes (and the most vocal opponent of Net Neutrality) was cast by Ajit Pai, a commissioner whose background includes work for Verizon as an Associate General Counsel. His reaction to the net neutrality proposal was, “The Internet is not broken. There is no problem to solve.” The translation is “there’s nothing unique that needs protection.” I respect Mr. Pai’s position as a vocal advocate for free markets and I understand that he believes the result of Internet regulation would be a decreased level of investment by network providers. However, what Mr. Pai fails to understand is that in 2017, the Internet is the free market and its openness is the key to its freedom.
Mr. Pai is now the Chairman of the FCC and with the welcoming of a new administration to Washington, the entire political dynamic of the FCC has changed. Under his leadership, the FCC has already voted to reexamine the Net Neutrality policy that was formalized two years ago. Worrisomely, the public conversation about this new threat to Net Neutrality seems to be quietly advancing with much less attention than last time.
Neutrality is Policy, Not Politics
Net Neutrality is in grave danger of falling victim to a wave of partisanship rather than receiving the attention and discussion it is due.
Our leaders need to adopt a policy structure that promotes and secures a better economic framework for independent businesses, the foundation and strength of the US economy.
The current administration is generally appointing heads of agencies and commissions that are weary of regulation; including the appointment of Ajit Pai to chair the FCC. But if the administration’s goal is to remove government barriers to business, Chairman Pai’s goal in turn needs to be protecting what has made the Internet an incredible force for economic freedom—and that means keeping the Internet data neutral.
Ironically, Chairman Pai and I share the same philosophy on maximizing freedom and minimizing regulation where it’s not needed. Where we fundamentally disagree, however, is in the view of the Internet as a product rather than a marketplace—or the marketplace. Chairman Pai and opponents of a data neutral Internet simply view the Internet as a commodity, and as such, believe it should be at the discretion of providers to extract as much value from it as possible. But allowing providers to build “fast lanes” for global enterprises by default makes “slow lanes” for every small business and individual initiative that can’t afford to pay the elite tolls.
Imagine if your local mall could direct the entire budget of your city’s planning department. Eventually all the roads to and from the mall would be in pristine condition while the roads to Main Street shops would fall into disrepair. When customers can no longer navigate the potholes and overgrown rambles on Main Street, they simply won’t go back and your town mall would hold a monopoly on brick and mortar business. In this metaphor, Net Neutrality keeps the roads department focusing on the entire area, not just the town’s big businesses.
The Internet is the Marketplace
The reality of the Internet is that it has advanced well beyond being a commodity. From the very first moment of network connectivity, we were launched onto a path that culminates at one inflection point: the Internet has become the most important marketplace for goods and services in the history of humanity. The Internet’s commerce story began much like the story of the Sears Roebuck catalog; let me explain.
During the mid- to late- 1800’s, America was racing ahead with Western expansion. New towns and communities were forming, far away from the more urbanized east coast, and the railroads and postal system served as critical connections between the two sides of the country. Sears Roebuck recognized that this infrastructure created an environment primed for a mail-order business. They released the first catalog in 1894, and it exploded in popularity because it gave consumers access to products outside of their physical geography. For the first time, farmers in rural Wyoming could purchase many of the same products as a person living in New York City.
The big difference is that the Internet has always been far more than just the catalog of one company; it’s the catalog of every idea, plus the railroads, the postal system and the spirit of exploration rolled into one. That is what is at risk when we talk about the end of Net Neutrality. How different would the story of Sears Roebuck and the US be if the postal service or railroads had simply said, “We won’t deliver your catalog.” It doesn’t require endless amounts of analysis to realize the chilling effect that would have had on the development of communities and businesses. That same chilling effect is what is bound to happen without Net Neutrality, only on a global scale.
If network providers are incentivized to treat traffic preferentially, to prioritize certain content and sites over others, the average small or medium business around the world will find themselves at a dramatic disadvantage. Though I’m sure that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will offer all businesses the opportunity to pay for prioritization, the economies of scale will instantly favor large businesses. The same is true for bringing new communities online. What’s more, ISPs aren’t likely to invest in places where economic value isn’t as clear, like charities, clubs and social groups. Without a content neutral Internet all that will be at risk.
These issues are the very reason the FCC moved to protect the Internet two years ago. There is a precedent for protecting the Internet that goes beyond economic theory. As far back as 1934, when the Communications Act was passed, the telephone was recognized as central to interstate commerce. Any attempt to manipulate access or openness of the telephone system was more than just a threat to a business or a consumer. It jeopardized the well-being of an entire economic and social system. Conservative government regulations through the FCC weren’t implemented to limit the use of the telephone (or broadcasting or any of the other elements of the Communications Act). They were implemented to ensure that what had become a marketplace for innovation remained open and stable.
Similarly, the Internet needs to remain open and free if we want it, and all of the connections and innovations it enables, to grow. Chairman Pai and his colleagues regularly point to a study that shows investment in network infrastructure declining by 5.6 percent over the last two years. That argument has been debunked on a number of fronts, with one of the most important being the investment cost in network infrastructure is actually decreasing over time. They also claim that small ISPs have told them over and over again that Title II (the 2015 Net Neutrality policy) has prevented them from building new networks. And yet, only a few days ago, 30 small ISPs petitioned the FCC to maintain Net Neutrality because it gave them a fair playing field just like the small businesses and communities they serve. They shouldn’t be left to stand alone for the future of the Internet.
Your Voice Needed
The fact of the matter is we need Net Neutrality if we want a new, vibrant economy. Big and small businesses alike are aligned around the idea that an open Internet creates opportunity and spurs market growth. The Internet isn’t just a utility – it is the utility fueling our global economy. The Internet has become a necessity for the interaction of consumers and businesses. If we allow the FCC to create an environment that encourages preferential treatment, we’ll allow our government to inadvertently starve innovation and small business initiative. Let’s not let that happen.
That’s why this isn’t an argument for increased governmental regulation in the Internet. Instead, it’s a demand for our government to help preserve what is a foundational element of our future. I, along with thousands of others, am asking you to become a part of making that demand heard.
July 12th will be an incredibly important day in the fight for a free and open Internet. It’s been coined the “Day of Action,” and GoDaddy, along with 40,000 other companies like Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, and Kickstarter, will use our home pages and channels to encourage users to get involved in the conversation. You’ll see banners, messages and pages all asking you to comment on the FCC’s proposal.
It may seem like an uphill battle, but there is power in your voice. Even Thomas Jefferson, a man renowned for his belief that a little government goes a long way, once wrote, “the basis of our government is opinion of the people.” Based on what I witnessed in 2015, I believe the opinion of the people is clear: we have to maintain an open Internet. I’m hopeful that you will make your voice heard—and at such volume the FCC can’t ignore the volume.
I’m hopeful that you will make your voice heard—and at such volume the FCC can’t ignore the volume.
Join me and GoDaddy in the conversation. Become a part of the Day of Action by posting a comment in support of Net Neutrality during the FCC’s open comment period which ends July 18. Our window of time is limited, so take action now. The future of a free and open Internet is up to you.