Tech entrepreneurs urge the FCC to protect net neutrality

Several tech leaders including the co-founder of Apple and the inventor of the world wide web have signed an open letter against the FCC voting to repeal net neutrality on Thursday

Tech entrepreneurs urge the FCC to protect net neutrality

Net neutrality is under threat. On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to vote to scrap rules aimed at ensuring all websites are treated equally by internet-service providers in the US. The vote, which is very likely to be passed, could potentially mean that these companies could block or change certain websites’ speeds. However, several tech heavy hitters have openly opposed the move.

For instance, more than 20 pioneers in the field have signed an open letter urging the FCC to cancel the vote on Thursday. The list of entrepreneurs and innovators who signed the letter include Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web; Mitchell Baker, executive chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation; and Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. The letter said: “It is important to understand that the FCC’s proposed order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of internet technology. These flaws and inaccuracies were documented in detail in a 43-page-long joint comment signed by over 200 of the most prominent internet pioneers and engineers and submitted to the FCC on July 17, 2017.” The authors of the letter also added that over 23 million comments have been submitted about the vote, which the pioneers doubt that the FCC has gone through sufficiently.

But these signatories are hardly alone in their criticism: big tech firms like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Netflix, Reddit and Apple have all openly opposed the proposed changes. Additionally, the FCC has faced a backlash from the tech-startup ecosystem. For example, over 1,000 entrepreneurs and investors have signed an open letter arguing that changing the rules would make it harder for newcomers to make their mark. They said: “Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market. They could impede traffic from our services in order to favour their own services or established competitors. Or they could impose new tolls on us, inhibiting consumer choice.”

However, it seems unlikely that Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC, will be persuaded by these comments. Appointed by Donald Trump, who is a long-standing opponent to the current net neutrality rules, Pai has in recent weeks seemed to channel the president, accusing tech giants of suppressing views that don’t align with their agenda, saying that: “Twitter is part of the problem.” He believes that tearing up the rules would enable internet-service providers like his former employer Verizon and Comcast to boost their revenues and innovation. Commenting on his stance, Pai said: “Instead of saddling the internet with heavy-handed regulations, we will work together to take targeted action against bad actors.”

This isn’t the first time that tech entrepreneurs have spoken out against the president’s politics. Even before he was elected, 146 Silicon Valley leaders stated that “Trump would be a disaster for innovation”. Since then, he’s faced a backlash from the sector on many things, including his travel ban, his attempted abolishment of DACA and his referring to the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville as “very fine people”. Clearly, there is a divide between the companies innovating in technology and the current US administration.

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson

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