Carriers should stop attacking the Open Internet Order

On Thursday, July 30, large cable and telecom companies filed their opening brief in their lawsuit challenging the Open Internet Order. Adopted earlier this year, the order prohibits carriers like Comcast and Verizon from creating online fast lanes reserved for those with the deepest pockets.

The Open Internet Order has been widely celebrated as sound policy by economists, scholars, and business innovators, including entrepreneurs like me. Yet carriers have been attacking the order in Congress and now the courts.

As co-founder and CEO of Distil Networks, I have a message for carriers like Comcast and Verizon: when you attack the Open Internet Order, you threaten the future of business and innovation in America. I am one of countless entrepreneurs who would not have been able to start my business, never mind build it into a successful company, without net neutrality — the principle that keeps the Internet an open space, free from undue corporate control. The order simply codifies net neutrality into law. It bans carriers from blocking or slowing down sites, or charging sites extra fees to reach people faster. The order is necessary to preserve an open and competitive environment that fosters innovation for companies like ours.

For online companies, speed is everything. Studies confirm that for every second slower your web page loads, you lose engagement, you lose people, you lose business. The faster you deliver content, the more users you attract, the more customers you acquire, the more money you make. Every company wants to deliver content faster, but it is impossible if they cannot afford a faster connection to customers.

Without the level playing field preserved by the Open Internet Order, the 800-pound gorillas of Internet content delivery could simply buy themselves a private fast lane on the Internet; underdogs who could not afford it would be stuck in the slow lane. No amount of ingenuity would enable a small business to move from the slow lane to the fast lane. No matter how much you tweak your car’s engineering, it’s still throttled by an artificial speed limit.

If there were fast and slow lanes, the future of innovation would also suffer. Since the inception of the Internet, the costs of innovation online have been incredibly low. Entrepreneurs haven’t needed millions in funding to get new businesses off the ground. But if carriers were allowed to create a fast lane and charge companies to be in it, entrepreneurs without resources would not have a chance to compete or attract investors. As Distil knows from experience, many start-ups don’t have the resources to pay access fees. They would never have gotten off the ground in the first place.

“‘Slow lanes’ spell doom for innovation,” confirms Stanford professor and net neutrality expert Barbara van Schewick. “If established companies can pay so that their content loads faster or does not count against users’ monthly bandwidth caps, then that student working on a bright idea in a dorm room doesn’t have a chance to compete.”

Imagine all that we would lose. Facebook started in a college dorm room and is now one of America’s greatest technological success stories. The Open Internet Order preserves the conditions that allow such future innovations to flourish.

Of course, some argue that the logic of capitalism encourages us to reward companies with sufficient capital to buy their place in the fast lane. But the root of capital growth lies in innovation. Dig into the history of every successful American business, and you’ll find that someone thought up a way to do something better or more efficiently than before. Today, any company that has succeeded online has done so because they could share new ideas and compete on the open Internet. Stifle online innovation and you stifle the future of our nation’s economic growth.

In response, carriers insist that creating fast lanes will bring in more profits, which they would then use to build network infrastructure. But carriers have continued to invest in infrastructure for decades. Moreover, there is no guarantee they would use extra profits toward this end. Any additional profits in the carriers’ pockets are not worth the costs to our economy, not to mention free speech and democratic discourse.

The Internet is the Information Superhighway. It wouldn’t be much of a highway if websites that could afford the fast lane operated at a higher speed limit and everyone else was forced to connect at a lower speed limit. For the sake of America’s economy, carriers should stop viewing the Open Internet Order as a threat. They should instead join the rest of us and celebrate the Order as necessary law that is here to stay.

Essaid is CEO and co-founder of Distil Networks, a bot detection and mitigation company.


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