It wasn’t too long ago that I was writing in my Wireless Week column about how happy I was that the U.S. Court of Appeals had upheld its decision on Net neutrality, allowing the Internet to remain free and open.
My contention, echoed by thousands of other mobile technology company CEOs like me, was that this was a big win for consumers even if there were some downsides in the short term.
I ended that article by writing that “As Net neutrality’s reach continues to expand on a global level, the United States now has the unique opportunity to serve as an example for how Net neutrality can function, as well as assisting others worldwide to implement similar regulations.”
Fast forward a bit, and we are now starting to see exactly how Net neutrality will function in the United States and how aggressively it will be enforced.
At first blush, it appears that the FTC is not going to let anybody get away with allocating bandwidth preferentially at the expense of others.
Engadget and others reported recently that both AT&T and Verizon have received letters from the FTC that accuse both companies of violating Net neutrality.
Net neutrality advocates agree that this level of enforcement is what is needed to ensure that we deliver on the promise of Net neutrality.
But will that mode of tough enforcement persist into 2017? Many think not, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.
A Reminder On What’s at Stake
Why is this an important issue for all of us?
As much as I am a fan of telco innovation — that’s my business at Infinite Convergence, after all — I’ve been a supporter of Net neutrality on aggregate, simple because I believe it’s best for consumers and that what’s best for consumers is ultimately best for the mobile technology industry.
Net neutrality creates a level playing field for tech entrepreneurs as well. When large companies can simply pay a large sum of money to get preferential access to consumers via the Internet, as is the case when Net neutrality rules are not in place, it stifles the ability of smaller entities without capital to compete.
That in and of itself is not all that unusual. Companies with access to large amounts of capital always have an advantage over those that don’t. But the difference here is that the Internet is considered by most of us to be a public asset in many respects.
Just as we don’t say that the rich should have preferential access to drive or ship goods on publicly-funded highways and bridges, so too should we not allow powerful companies to monopolize the information superhighway.
The Other Side Has Some Good Points
Yes, I’m fully aware of the counterarguments.
I of course know that the information superhighway is unlike automotive highways in that it runs across privately funded networking assets (fiber optic cable, etc.).
I’m also familiar with arguments by those who oppose net neutrality who say that Net neutraility works against entrepreneurship. Their belief is that the large telcos, ISPs and Googles of the world must be allowed to make additional profits from the Internet so they will be incentivized to invest more into its infrastructure, which ultimately aids tech entrepreneurs big and small.
But, having done some serious thinking on this topic, I still end up in favor of Net neutrality.
Implications of a New Government in the United States
Unfortunately, with Donald Trump’s election, all bets are off for Net neutrality enforcement.
I’ve written extensively on the future of the telecom industry under Donald Trump in my Wireless Week column, and have provided advice to President-elect Trump on five key principles that I hope his Administration keeps top of mind.
All signs, and all prior comments from Trump and his supporters, suggest that they will rollback all Net neutrality wins and/or appoint an FTC leadership team that simply looks the other way when Net neutrality is violated.
In a democratic republic, this is their right.
To the victor comes the spoils.
Let’s just hope that their spoils don’t spoil the Internet altogether — stifling innovation, inhibiting tech entrepreneurship, de-prioritizing consumer interests and/or marginalizing the full potential of what many believe to be the largest engine of human economic growth in global history.