Numerous companies, including tech giants like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, are participating in an “internet-wide day of action” on Wednesday to defend net neutrality, promoting an issue that a number of Missouri startups have voiced support for in recent weeks.
The Federal Communications Commission, led by chairman Ajit Pai, is trying to roll back regulations on net neutrality, which prevents broadband providers from interfering with web traffic. Current rules treat internet service providers like utilities and prevent them from hurting rivals or favoring affiliated services.
Many startups and small businesses have expressed concern that rolling back the rule would adversely affect their companies.
More than 20 startups, funders and entrepreneurial support groups from Missouri and the greater Kansas City area have joined a national coalition of startups, investors and other organizations in signing a letter about the issue, addressed to Pai. In the letter, dated April 26, the group asks the FCC to not “leave America’s innovators behind.”
“Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the Internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market,” the letter reads. “They could impede traffic from our services in order to favor their own services or established competitors. Or they could impose new tolls on us, inhibiting consumer choice. Those actions directly impede an entrepreneur’s ability to ‘start a business, immediately reach a worldwide customer base, and disrupt an entire industry.’”
Chris Brown is a Kansas City attorney and the founder of Venture Legal, one of the local organizations to sign the letter.
“(Net neutrality) empowers small businesses and startups to be able to grow without ISPs getting in the way,” Brown said. “Everyone was on the same level playing field.”
He said that, without net neutrality, small businesses would be at a significant disadvantage because they could not afford to compete with tech giants.
Ryan Weber, president of the KC Tech Council, said the impact of a potential rollback still remains unknown, as FCC has not proposed a detailed plan yet.
“If net neutrality goes away, it would be easier for carriers to limit access to different online products,” Weber said. “However, I had a very hard time believing there were any benefits for carriers doing that. Their customers would certainly revolt if they no longer have access to services or applications that were popular.”
A majority of the companies that the council represents are still educating themselves about the concept and the potential meaning to their business, Weber said.
He added, “there are a number of people very concerned that if the government eliminates the open internet, it could really affect their ability for small companies and startups to grow and scale.”
The tech industry in the Kansas City area employs about 94,000 people, representing more than 3,700 tech employers, Weber said, and makes up of about 10 percent of the economy.
Brown believes it is in the interest of everyone in the U.S. to have an open internet.
“Ten or 15 years ago, those (giant) companies were brand-new, tiny startups, and they understand that in order to make the economy to thrive, we need more businesses to not only start but also grow,” he said.
Sites joining Wednesday’s day of action are expected to post an alert or banner ads on their homepages to show the viewers how the internet would look without net neutrality.
Brown said the action attempts to “get the word out to the average customers,” who might not aware of the net neutrality debate.
“A lot of members of Congress are back in their home districts, hosting town halls and meeting with companies (today),” Weber said. “I think the plan is for (them) to know that folks in the tech industry, specifically small businesses, are passionate about this conversation.”