Nearly 200 tech industry heavyweights such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon, along with startup-backing venture capitalists, are putting pressure on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), warning the agency’s latest proposal would kill the open Internet, discourage innovation, and stifle free speech.
“Over the past twenty years, American innovators have created countless Internet-based applications, content offerings, and services that are used around the world. The innovation we have seen to date happened in a world without discrimination. An open Internet has also been a platform for free speech and opportunity for billions of user,” wrote a conglomerate of over 100 Internet companies, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Ebay, in their FCC letter.
Earlier this year, a judge threw out the FCC’s net neutrality rules that made it so that all Internet traffic was treated equally. The agency has since gone back to the drawing board, announcing a new proposal that lets broadband providers charge tech companies, and likely consumers, more for faster access to websites or mobile applications.
If finalized, deals similar to the one struck between Netflix and Comcast, where the Netflix pays a premium for better streaming speeds, would become more common. The added costs could privilege the largest and wealthiest companies while preventing the next Vine, Pinterest or Facebook from reaching its potential.
The missives urging the FCC to change its mind came a week before the FCC is scheduled to vote on the new rules and just as President Obama kicked off a fundraising campaign (attended a string of fundraisers) in Silicon Valley. Combined with internal tensions within the FCC, the letters have sparked calls for the FCC Chairman to delay next week’s vote, presumably so it can reconsider its position.
“If established companies are able to pay for better access speeds or lower latency, the Internet will no longer be a level playing field. Start-ups with applications that are advantaged by speed (such as games, video, or payment systems) will be unlikely to overcome that deficit no matter how innovative their service,” the tech investors wrote in their own open letter supporting start-ups.
Investors are aggressively funding these start-ups in the hopes that they become huge IPO successes, or at least get bought out by big companies like Google and Facebook. So far this year, venture capitalists have broken records by raising almost $9 billion, to fund start-ups that may well turn into the next app sensation, according to a recent Reuters report. The number of investments has increased 81 percent since the end of 2013, and, with booming stock prices of newly public tech companies as an incentive, venture capitalists have a vested interest in fighting the FCC’s proposals.
Tech companies are becoming increasingly vocal on divisive political issues, from marriage equality to censorship to immigration reform. The tech industry’s newfound political interest — backed by massive campaign contributions — not only shows its growing influence in national politics but also makes it hard for the government to ignore when it comes to policy-making.
Silicon Valley’s political clout also means it has no problem taking the Administration to task when when it disagrees with policy decisions. Obama has taken several meetings with tech giants including Microsoft and Yahoo regarding government surveillance. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was also quick to call Obama earlier this year to vent his frustrations on government surveillance programs. In a blog post released after the call, Zuckerberg said Washington was a “threat” to the Internet, calling for more transparency around the government’s surveillance programs. The industry has also more formally rallied against government intrusions into civil liberties and privacy with the “The Day We Fight Back” protest in February and the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act protests in 2012.