The FCC open internet vote

Yesterday, the FCC met to vote on its notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the Open Internet.  As was generally expected, the commission voted, along partisan lines, to move forward with their plan for Open Internet rules — a plan that, as currently designed, would allow for fast lanes and slow lanes on the Internet.  (You can see the summary fact sheet here and the full notice here).

There are really two issues:

1) Should we be striving for an open internet — more specifically, should we ensure that everyone has open accessto the internet, unrestricted by internet access providers; and

2) How do we achieve that

On #1, I would encourage everyone to watch Chairman Wheeler’s remarks from yesterday’s meeting (embedded below). I was struck by how dead-solid he came out with a yes to that question.  He spoke emphatically of “One Internet” and of enumerated all the ways he would stand up to internet access discrimination.

http://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?c4498472/wheelers-open-internet-remarks

The issue is #2.  The FCC’s current plan is big trouble.

But the win, incremental as it may be, is the rather dramatic shift in tone that the Commission has taken — specifically, explicitly considering reclassifying internet access providers as “common carriers”.   The pressure from internet activists, tech companies (both at the applications layer and the transit layer), and investors, has had an impact.

After yesterdays FCC meeting, I joined a press call and gave the following statement:

Union Square Ventures is a venture capital firm that manages $1B in assets and invests in the applications layer of the internet — apps like Twitter, tumblr, Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, SoundCloud, and many more.

As investors in internet applications, we’ve seen firsthand how the level playing field for startups that has existed with the open internet has been critical to the explosion of innovation and investment over the past decade.

And we also know how an environment controlled by gatekeepers with end-user monopolies can stifle investment and innovation.

That’s why we joined over 100 other VCs and internet investors in communicating this to the FCC and Chairman Wheeler in a letter last week.  Collectively, we manage billions of dollars in investment capital and have invested in internet applications with hundreds of millions of users.  And every one of these services started as a tiny company with virtually no resources, and very little chance of succeeding, even before worrying about discrimination and blocking from Internet Access Providers.

At today’s meeting, we were pleased to hear the passion with which the Chairman voiced his support for unfettered, open access to “one internet”.  It’s clear from his remarks that he believes in the value of, and the need for simple, enforceable rules that protect a wide-open marketplace for internet applications.

Clearly, the debate over the next six months will focus on how best to achieve that goal.

There is substantial concern that the FCC will not be able to practically achieve its open internet goals under its section 706 authority, which means that looking closely at an approach under Title II of the communications act is a logical next step.

So, we look forward to engaging in that discussion, with the FCC, with the startups and other investors we work with on a daily basis, with carriers and with the public that is building more and more of their lives on top of the open internet every day.

So we will see where this goes.  Starting now, and through July 15, the doors are open at the FCC for lobbying and public comment. One thing you can do today is write a letter to the FCC, stating what the open internet means to you:www.dearfcc.org.

The important thing is to keep up the pressure.

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