On Net Neutrality and Protecting our Future Innovators

by Gilvir Gill and Allan Wang

Today, any young innovator can use the internet to focus on developing their skills and making an impact on the world. It’s an integral part of our mission here at Kinet-X. But if Internet Service Providers and Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai get their way and torpedo net neutrality, all of us - entrepreneurs, innovators, and consumers - will be forced to comply to whatever large cable conglomerates want.

Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman

Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman

Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs like Comcast & AT&T should not control what we see and do online. In 2015,  startups, internet freedom groups, and 3.7 million commenters won strong net neutrality rules from the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC). The rules prohibit internet providers from blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization—"fast lanes" for sites that pay, and slow lanes for everyone else. (battleforthenet.com)

Those cable companies are lobbying the FCC and Congress to end net neutrality. Without it, they could easily discriminate against anything that’s potentially unfavorable to their interests, be it poor customer reviews to potential competition. And Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman, recently announced his plans to dissolve the existing legal framework that prevents discrimination.

If net neutrality is not protected, I’m worried that the future of the internet, innovation, and young innovators is endangered. The accessible, fast internet we know and love will be gone.

Pai, a former Verizon employee involved in regulation, plans to reclassify the internet from Title II, and allow much looser regulations on ISPs than before.  According to him, these regulations hurt investment and damaged the bottom line of small ISPs. In reality, though, it’s these regulations that ensure a fair and prosperous internet for the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.

The promise of the internet is that it gives everyone the power to learn and develop their ideas into businesses or products available to all. Businesses like Google and Amazon were founded by regular people empowered by the internet, and these companies have gone on to change our lives for the better. Without net neutrality, future innovators won’t be able to do the same.

As of 2015, the internet is classified under Title II of The Telecommunications Act of 1934, which considers ISPs as common carriers: organizations whose responsibility it is to transport information without discrimination. This was done only after huge public outcry, and was only protected by the 114th Congress due to the efforts of net neutrality advocate groups and the American people.

Before the FCC applied Title II regulation to the internet, net neutrality was being torn down by corporations like Comcast and Verizon. In 2014, Netflix was experiencing massive slowdowns from Comcast customers. At the time, 30% of internet traffic was to Netflix, and Comcast’s archaic infrastructure was not able to keep up with increased bandwidth demands.  However, Comcast and other consumer ISPs refused to upgrade their networks unless they were paid by businesses that relied on them to deliver their service to the end user, such as Cogent and Level 3 Communications, which connect services like YouTube and Netflix (which compete with Comcast’s Xfinity TV services) to the internet. In the end, both Level 3 and Netflix were forced  to pay Comcast money to ensure they didn’t lose customers to poor service. These are the kinds of anti-consumer, anti-competition methods ISPs are willing to take to make money, and to them net neutrality is just another obstacle in the way of that.

The world Pai envisions, a world without net neutrality, would be a world where this would happen every day, where ISPs could bully services such as Netflix into paying them millions of dollars, where a promising startup couldn’t make it anywhere because they can’t afford to pay ISPs to deliver their content at the same speed as it’s competitors.

Pai believes that without regulation, ISPs will be encouraged to grow and invest more in infrastructure. However, this may allow ISPs to get away by doing the opposite. They can simply force companies to pay huge  fees, while providing inferior service to companies who can’t afford to do so. Not only would the sites of those companies be less accessible, ISPs would be rationing the current infrastructure.

This would seriously reduce the quality of broadband access for everyone. Many students would at the very minimum lose access to swaths of free educational content online, seriously reducing their potential and opportunities.

This is Chris Kim - a student at Kinet-X and one of those potentially affected by Pai's plans to dismantle net neutrality.

This is Chris Kim - a student at Kinet-X and one of those potentially affected by Pai's plans to dismantle net neutrality.

Some major ISPs have stated that Title II in fact did not hurt their bottom line, and more than 40 smaller ISPs have come out in favor of rulings established to protect net neutrality. The only companies not in favor of net neutrality are those that have something to gain from hurting their indirect competition, the ones that deliver the phone and TV services that VoIP(i.e. Skype) and video streaming have made obsolete. Big ISPs don’t want new technologies like video streaming to gain even more traction, because it hurts their overpriced and outdated alternatives.

In response to Pai and the ISPs, people from all over are making their voices heard, from startup founders, gamers, actors, musicians, and politicians.  Together, we’ve organized a movement called the Battle for Net Neutrality to fight the ISPs and win our internet back.

There’s less than 60 days to make our voices heard to the FCC and Congress. It’s time we take a stand and protect the future of a free, open, and competitive internet.

Sign up here at battleforthenet.com

Thanks to Fardeen Jawad, Jason Wang, and Adam Abbas for reading drafts of this.