FCC must set strong net neutrality rules to protect innovation

We live in a remarkable age of innovation. The Internet has been the central economic driver of the 21st century. Through the free flow of information, it has empowered not just Americans, but a global economy where the impossible is possible, where an idea in a garage or a dorm room can flourish into a startup or into an iconic brand.

The Internet is also transforming the consumer experience. Nowhere is this more evident than in entertainment. The way we view content has changed dramatically, from programs you could only catch once a week on your television to the release of an entire season simultaneously that can be streamed by the viewer whenever and across technology platforms.

But innovation does not occur in a vacuum. To achieve these innumerable benefits it is imperative that all Americans have access to a truly free and open Internet.

I strongly support net neutrality, a topic that is paramount but often misunderstood. What is net neutrality? It is not a solution in search of a problem as some would argue. And it is not allowing a few companies to dictate the terms of — or throw a detour sign up on — the Internet.

Net neutrality is about preserving a free and open Internet ecosystem, where consumers can access new products and ideas, and have an open market for new innovations. There should be no “gatekeepers,” or toll roads. More important, it’s about the idea that anyone can use the Internet to make his or her voice heard.

Earlier this year, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the Verizon v. FCC case regarding the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order. The ruling affirmed the FCC’s authority, under Section 706, to oversee broadband. The court ruling, however, struck down the “no-blocking” and “nondiscrimination” rules. In response, I co-sponsored the Open Internet Preservation Act with my colleagues Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) that would reinstate those two basic rules of the road. Our bill makes clear to the FCC that we expect strong net neutrality rules on the books. I have also urged the FCC to move forward to protect the open Internet with its existing authority.

The FCC’s recent announcement that the proposed rules would allow “commercially reasonable” discrimination prompted strong reactions from many Americans. Many have expressed concern that it could open the door for a two-tiered Internet system.

This comes at a time when more consumers are watching TV programming via streaming over the Internet. Market forces are adapting to this trend. We are seeing content providers cutting deals with broadband providers for faster online delivery of their products and services.
The most recent example has been Netflix inking deals with both Comcast and Verizon.

These deals may well lead to improved experiences for those subscribers, but there are many unknowns as well. For one, what does it mean for consumers who access their Internet through a provider that is not Comcast or Verizon? Will their Netflix viewing experience be worse?

Allowing deals for prioritization could easily be used to favor some content at the expense of others and be used as a barrier to entry for a small startup without the resources to buy access to an Internet fast lane. I agree that we need open Internet rules that encourage companies to compete for customers without striking special deals.

I am hopeful the FCC will propose a set of rules that will truly preserve an open and free Internet that spurs innovation and protects consumers. All Americans that care about the future of the open Internet should share their views with the FCC. The agency needs to hear from you about why the Internet must remain a platform for innovation and free expression.

In a speech last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler stated “If we get to a situation where arrival of the ‘next Google’ or the ‘next Amazon’ is being delayed or deterred, we will act as necessary using the full panoply of our authority.”

I, too, hope we never find ourselves in that situation. However, it is deeply concerning that this could even be a possibility. Our economy cannot afford “all bark and no bite” when it comes to the FCC’s actions on net neutrality, and I’m confident they recognize that.

Net neutrality is an issue we will continue to grapple with in Congress, in the press and in households across America. How we move forward on this issue will define the future of American innovation. It is not about creating headlines. It is only through sound actions that innovators will have the environment they need to create and test their ideas, and consumers will have the options and experiences they deserve.

Matsui has represented California congressional districts in the Sacramento area since 2005. She is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.FCC must set strong net neutrality rules to protect innovation