The Internet is free. By American, and even world standards, it’s an incredibly level playing field where agile small businesses can supplant large established companies. On the Internet, the value of a business is not judged by how many lawyers it has protecting it or how much capital it has to start with, the value of a business is based on its merit. That’s how a company like Facebook beat out MySpace, and how MySpace beat out Friendster. If a product is attractive, useful, and works, it has a genuine chance at popularity. The large websites we see today like YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon were all borne of this completely free and level playing field. Currently this freedom is protected by a 1996 piece of legislation called Net Neutrality which essentially decrees that all data must be treated equally. Right now the Federal Communications Commission wants to change this.
Under the weight of cable companies like Comcast, the FCC has proposed a two-tiered system in which users will need to pay more for fast service or be stuck with a slow internet connection. What’s more, cable companies have begun charging content providers in order to continue streaming videos to users. In 2013 when Comcast was in negotiations with Netflix about the cost of streaming videos, the cable provider purposefully diminished the speed of video streaming to a crawl in a successful attempt to coax Netflix into accepting the new costs. This practice, reminiscent of a mob-shakedown, isn’t only toxic for established companies, it’s dangerous for start-ups as well. Potentially, cable providers could quash new companies by “negotiating” higher rates, rates a start-up may not be able to afford. The FCC is the government arm tasked with protecting the free internet, so why is it caving to the demands of cable providers? One needs to look no further than the FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler. Prior to his appointment to Chairman by President Obama in November 2013, Mr. Wheeler was a lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry. As John Oliver so eloquently put it on his show, Last Week Tonight, that’s like needing a babysitter for your young child and hiring a dingo. A man whose former job was spent lobbying the FCC for the harmful changes desired by cable providers, is now the Chairman of the FCC.
It’s not just internet savvy twenty-somethings like myself who recognize the hazardous path we’re on, large companies fear the changes as well. In May of 2014 over 100 companies including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Ebay, and Facebook, signed a letter addressed to the FCC that expressed their strong opposition to the proposed changes to the free Internet. As of May 15th, the proposed “fast-lane bill” passed voting 3/2 and is now open for public discussion until July. If you care about a free Internet, not just for yourself but for future generations, I strongly urge you to comment on the open platform provided on the FCC website at fcc.gov. Better yet, contact the offices of Senators Rockefeller, Manchin, and Representative McKinley. For years the Internet has been an incredible source of free news, entertainment, and information. It’s in our best interest to keep it that way.