By Mike Montgomery
As many know, today is a day of action on net neutrality. For everyone who believes in the principle of net neutrality, however, we shouldn’t reserve just one day. That’s because for nearly a decade a cloud of uncertainty has hung over the future of net neutrality. It is time for that uncertainty to end but it will take a sustained effort, not just one day of protest to fix this. For too long the fate of net neutrality has been subject to whomever sits in the White House and nominates the FCC chairperson.
As we have been saying since 2014, we need to translate today’s day of action into a sustained effort to get Congress to write into law the principles of net neutrality, which are foundational in the digital age. That will protect entrepreneurs and provide a level playing field. This isn’t a new approach for CALinnovates as it is for many engaged in the debate. We have said for 3 years that legislation is not only important, but that it is vital. As one of the first voices to argue for legislation to codify these important principles in stone, we didn’t push the easy button and accept temporary regulations.
We know there are some who don’t see it that way. They would rather rail at the FCC for once again reversing its position. But what good does that do? If a Republican is in charge, the FCC sees net neutrality implementation one way; if a Democrat is in charge, the FCC sees implementation another way. Either way the other party raises campaign funds arguing that when they are in charge next they will switch things up. Meanwhile, consumers and entrepreneurs lack certainty that legislation would provide about fair, clear rules of the internet road.
This back and forth is the worst of all worlds because it creates uncertainty: for consumers, for entrepreneurs and for the infrastructure providers. Here’s what we know: the current FCC is going to go in a different direction when it comes to net neutrality. Whether you agree with that — and there are a lot of technologists and policymakers on both sides of the issue — that’s the political reality. So where do we go from here?
CALinnovates has long sought a third-way on net neutrality — one that ensures it is a guiding principle but doesn’t lock into place provisions that freeze future innovation. A lot of the focus has been on the FCC’s use of
Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. And it’s not just CALinnovates that is concerned with Title II — a large group of Internet pioneers have raised serious concerns (the list of these tech leaders is below).
Here’s what one leader, John Perry Barlow — the co-founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation — wrote: “Telecom regulations give a lot of leverage to organizations whether governmental or corporate to close down the right to know. My long experience says as soon as you give government the authority to impose regulations on the Internet you are doing something to frustrate the right to know. People tend to presume on theoretical grounds a little right minded regulation will help people build beneficial architectures and organizations. I do not think there is anything to support that theory. Every time I have seen any sort of regulation of the Internet the results have been mayhem. Declaring the Internet and the telephone network to be the same thing is like declaring a Buick and a symphony to be the same thing because they both make noise.”
The problem with Title II is that although it does, in theory, ensure that all data is treated equally and that companies can’t carve out fast lanes, it also opens the door to the internet being frozen into a time capsule that discourages network modernization, which supports the next wave of innovation and increased competition among providers. The digital world moves at the speed of light. To slow growth to the speed of bureaucracy would have serious negative effects on the tech industry that is continually transforming.
When others were calling for regulations, we argued for legislation. We were ahead of the curve while others engaged in the food fight that defines the net neutrality debate. Now, though, we are glad others are finally echoing what we’ve been saying since 2014. Bipartisan legislation would end for once and for all the endless cycle of FCC rule-making, litigation by those who oppose it, more FCC rule-making, repeal of FCC rule-making, protests, more protests and counter-protests. Our position hasn’t made us popular with those who profit from protest, but it has been the right thing to do the whole time. Today, we reiterate our call for Congress to enact commonsense legislation that put flexible but important principles into law that protect consumers and give some direction to entrepreneurs.
If net neutrality is as important as we all say it is, it should be the law of the land, not a political hot potato resting on the third rail of American tech policy for another decade.
Tech leaders concerned about Title II regulation of the Internet :
1. John Perry Barlow, lyricist, activitist, and co-founder EFF
2. Gordon Bell, researcher emeritus, Microsoft
3. Mark Cuban, founder, AXS TV & Owner, Dallas Mavericks
4. Tim Draper, co-founder, Draper Fisher Jurvetson
5. Tom Evslin, founder & former, CEO ITXC
6. Dave Farber, Professor Emeritus, CMU & Board Member ISOC and EFF
7. Toby Farrand, VP Engineering, Ooma
8. David Frankel, founder ZipDX, Jetstream, & HD voice pioneer
9. Martin Geddes, former BT Strategy Director
10. Charlie Giancarlo, Sr Advisor, Silver Lake & former Chief Development Officer, Cisco
11. George Gilder, futurist and author
12. John Gilmore, activist and co-founder EFF
13. Bryan Martin, Chairman and CTO, 8×8
14. Doug Humphrey, co-founder Digex, Cidera & first east coast ISP
15. Joe McMillen, founder Complex Drive & lead developer first carrier grade VoIP gateway
16. Scott McNealy, co-founder SUN Microsystems
17. Bob Metcalfe, Professor, University of Texas & co-founder 3Com, inventor of Ethernet
18. Andrew Odlyzko, Professor, University of Minnesota
19. Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes & former CTO Microsoft
20. Jeff Pulver, cofounder, Vonage & Zula
21. Sandra Rivera, VP Data Center Group and GM Network Platforms (leads SDN/5G initiatives)
22. Michael Robertson, CEO, MP3.com
23. Les Vadasz, former EVP, Intel
Mike Montgomery is Executive Director at CALinnovates.