The Case for Preserving an Open Internet

February 23rd, 2017

Two years ago this week the FCC adopted its net neutrality rules to preserve a free and open Internet. This vote ensured that Internet users would have the strongest possible protections against blocking, throttling and discrimination of online content by their wired and wireless broadband providers. The FCC’s historic action was a victory for consumers and every business that relies on a vibrant online economy.

Two years later, we have an Administration that is openly hostile to net neutrality. As we look to more small businesses being launched and jobs created here at home, we can’t ignore the central role a free and open Internet – ensured by the FCC’s net neutrality rules — will continue to play in achieving that goal.

Today, we carry a computer in our pockets, we drive them, we communicate with them, and we depend on them to help us manage our lives. This increasingly mobile world provides innovators and small businesses with exciting new opportunities to reach consumers. According to ACT- the App Association, 82 %  of top app makers are small companies. These startups and small businesses, many of which are in Silicon Valley in my Congressional District, thrive in an open and neutral environment that values the best ideas and products. The FCC’s net neutrality rules ensure that the marketplace is the one picking winners and losers, not broadband providers.

Some critics of the FCC’s rules claim that investment in broadband infrastructure was harmed by the adoption of these rules, but broadband providers themselves tell a different story. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson recently met with President Trump and touted the fact that his company has been the leading investor of capital in the U.S. for each of the last five years, including the period since the FCC’s rules were adopted. Even Republicans in Congress are backing away from this unfounded claim. The Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently conceded that broadband providers haven’t cut back on investment because “they’ll never do that.” Meanwhile, investment in online businesses increased 35 percent in the year following the adoption of the rules.

Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat was founded by a group of students at Stanford. In their IPO filing paperwork, Snap painted a stark picture of what the app economy could look like without strong net neutrality rules in place. They said without strong protections “mobile providers may be able to limit our users’ ability to access Snapchat or make Snapchat a less attractive alternative to our competitors’ applications. Were that to happen, our business would be seriously harmed.”

The President ran on a populist platform saying he’d put the needs of middle class Americans ahead of corporate interests, yet has placed his trust in a new FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, who can hardly wait to unwind the FCC’s existing open internet protections, and is a proponent of unchecked corporate control of the Internet. In a public speech in December, Chairman Pai said that he wants to “take a weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation and job creation.” In his blind zeal to mow down all rules in his path, Chairman Pai wants to cut down those that incent the very things he claims he wants to promote.

It is American businesses and consumers who will be affected if the President, Chairman Pai and their Republicans in Congress succeed in overturning these rules. Not only will our economy be affected, our commitment to the democratic value of free speech will be affected as well. As much as these rules strengthen our economy, a free and open internet also gives consumers the ability to express themselves freely. Doing away with these rules puts our First Amendment rights directly at risk. As we face a new Administration that has threatened to silence the media and suppress voter rights, we cannot afford that.

Benjamin Franklin once said that “whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” To keep our nation the greatest in the world, we have an abiding obligation to ensure freedom of speech to all Americans. This includes preserving an open internet and it must begin with Chairman Pai and the FCC.

Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo, a Democrat, represents California’s 18th Congressional District. This Op-Ed ran in the February 23, 2017 edition of The Hill

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