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Welcome to San Francisco, Chairman Pai – We Depend on Net Neutrality

This is an open letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai as he arrives in San Francisco for an event. He has said that Silicon Valley is a magically innovative place – and we agree. An open internet makes that possible, and enables other geographical areas to grow and innovate too.

Welcome to San Francisco, Chairman Pai! As you have noted in the past, the Bay Area has been a hub for many innovative companies. Our startups, technology companies, and service providers have added value for billions of users online.

The internet is a powerful tool for the economy and creators. No one owns the internet – we can all create, shape, and benefit from it. And for the future of our society and our economy, we need to keep it that way – open and distributed.

We are very concerned by your proposal to roll back net neutrality protections that the FCC enacted in 2015 and that are currently in place. That enforceable policy framework provides vital protections to ensure that ISPs don’t act as gatekeepers for online content and services. Abandoning these core protections will hurt consumers and small businesses alike.

As network engineers have noted, your proposal mischaracterizes many aspects of the internet, and does not show that the 2015 open internet order would benefit anyone other than major broadband providers. Instead, this seems like a politically loaded decision made about rules that have not been tested, either in the courts or in the field. User rights, the American economy, and free speech should not be used as political footballs. We deserve more from you, an independent regulator.

Broadband providers are in a position to restrict internet access for their own business objectives: favoring their own products, blocking sites or brands, or charging different prices (either to users or to content providers) and offering different speeds depending on content type. Net neutrality prohibits network providers from discriminating based on content, so everyone has equal access to potential users – whether you are a powerful incumbent or an up-and-coming disruptive service. That’s key to a market that works.

The open internet aids free speech, competition, innovation and user choice. We need more than the hollow promises and wishful thinking of your proposal – we must have enforceable rules. And net neutrality enforcement under non-Title II theories has been roundly rejected by the courts.

Politics is a terrible way to decide the future of the internet, and this proceeding increasingly has the makings of a spectator sport, not a serious debate. Protecting the internet should not be a political, or partisan, issue. The internet has long served as a forum where all voices are free to be heard – which is critical to democratic and regulatory processes. These suffer when the internet is used to feed partisan politics. This partisanship also damages the Commission’s strong reputation as an independent agency. We don’t believe that net neutrality, internet access, or the open internet is – or ever should be – a partisan issue. It is a human issue.

Net neutrality is most essential in communities that don’t count giant global businesses as their neighbors like your hometown in Kansas. Without it, consumers and businesses will not be able to compete by building and utilizing new, innovative tools. Proceed carefully – and protect the entire internet, not just giant ISPs.