Kill net neutrality and you’ll kill us, say 800 US startups

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission announced the first step in its plan to kill net neutrality — reversing the Title II classification of internet service providers. Doing so will remove many regulations placed on big cable companies, allowing them to erect barriers and tolls that impede the free movement of data around the internet.

You won’t hear Comcast or Verizon arguing complaining, of course: this benefits them. But young tech companies who need a level playing field on the internet to succeed are up in arms. After FCC chairman Ajit Pai made yesterday’s announcement, a group of more than 800 startups sent him a letter objecting to the plans.

You can read the letter in full here, but the core argument is this:

“The success of America’s startup ecosystem depends on more than improved broadband speeds. We also depend on an open Internet — including enforceable net neutrality rules that ensure big cable companies can’t discriminate against people like us. We’re deeply concerned with your intention to undo the existing legal framework.

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 favor their own services or established competitors. Or they could impose new tolls on us, inhibiting consumer choice. […] Our companies should be able to compete with incumbents on the quality of our products and services, not our capacity to pay tolls to Internet access providers.”

Signatories to the letter include some recognizable names, like Y Combinator, Etsy, Foursquare, GitHub, Imgur, Nextdoor, and Warby Parker. But the majority of the companies involved will be unknowns to 99 percent of the population. Which is exactly the point. These aren’t established firms that will be able to sway government policy to their advantage (see: Netflix, which softened its support for net neutrality after becoming an established player in the industry) but companies who will have to fight an uphill battle against internet providers if Pai and the FCC get their way. They’re just trying not to get strangled in the crib.

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