Net Neutrality’s Demise:

Wiping Out our Greatest Economic Strength

The battle to save Net Neutrality has been quickly growing fiercer and more desperate these past few months, ever since a federal appeals court overturned the FCC’s Open Internet Order in January. The court’s ruling is complicated in its details, but in many people’s opinion, it overwhelmingly favors the interests of large telecommunications companies, like Verizon, which had initiated the appeal by challenging the order in the first place.

To raise the stakes further, the FCC announced yesterday that the federal agency was moving forward with a new proposal that would grant Internet service providers the ability to provide businesses a “fast lane” to Internet access. This naturally lends itself to the problem, however, that if a company cannot meet the ISP’s fast lane costs, they would be forced to use what would be a competitively disadvantaged slow lane.

In my view, what is at stake is far greater than most people realize. On its surface, the overturn of Net Neutrality is an archetypal example of large corporations trying to maximize means to revenue, possibly leading to even more consumer grief in the already woeful telecommunications business. However, I would contend that the true danger is more severe, and the now very fragile state of Net Neutrality is a story that represents the continued struggle to maintain economic balance in this country and ultimately compete in the global marketplace.

With due respect to the American legal system, the January ruling, to me, showcases an older generation who cannot truly comprehend the current landscape of frenzied change and opportunity, let alone the ramifications of their decision on the future of our competitive ability.

Think of the incredible pace of business model disruption and innovation in the United States during the last few years alone, where companies like Uber and Airbnb have revolutionized the taxi or hotel industry categories, respectively. This disruption is not only healthy but critical to our nation’s economic progress. We have always been a country that rewards innovation and presents incredible entrepreneurial opportunity to its citizens. I would consider the constant and equally available ability to innovate and compete to be our greatest economic strength, and it has powered our country’s progress for more than two centuries.

The United States’ free market economy needs competition to thrive, and it absolutely requires an even field of opportunity for the people and companies willing and able to disrupt the status quo and deliver a better product. It is like oxygen. Cut it off, and we will not only lag behind; we absolutely will not survive the incredible volume of competition we face around the world.

Without Net Neutrality, the inevitable control of the Internet by a small group of for-profit companies is going to stifle innovation and destroy our nation’s ability to stay at the forefront of global economic progress. The two examples of Uber and Airbnb would probably never have existed without Net Neutrality. Neither would Google or YouTube or Netflix or Amazon or Ebay or Facebook or Twitter or hundreds of other companies that have driven our economic growth during the past couple of decades.

It is for this reason that the real threat from Net Neutrality’s death is not merely the possibility of more consumer inconvenience but the absolute extinction of competitive opportunity for future start-ups and innovators. In fact, I am confident that if the FCC continues along its present course, we will look back in a decade and wonder how did we ever fall so far behind the rest of the world in terms of technological and economic growth.

Therefore the story of Net Neutrality’s fall mirrors the demise of another concept in our society: the prosperity of the middle class. The more control that is granted to the haves, the more disadvantage is levied upon the have-nots — and the weaker we all collectively become.

This essay represents my personal opinion on Net Neutrality, an admittedly complex issue, but it is an opinion heavily influenced by seeing firsthand the crushing blow to innovation that decisions like this can have. If we do not preserve Net Neutrality in its totality we surrender our country’s future ambition and opportunity to the pocketbooks of the very few.