In the past few years, we have seen decentralized services emerge as powerful forces on the internet. Products using the sharing economy, like Airbnb and Lyft, have decentralized formerly concentrated sectors to the benefit of consumers. We are witnessing the birth of blockchain-powered innovation, which distributes record keeping and automates administration to remove bottlenecks, tolls and bureaucracy.
Innovative products, like those of the sharing economy and that use blockchain, disrupt established industries. The powerful vested interests that control these industries often fear the rise of these innovators. Big hotel booking sites would have liked to stop Airbnb before it became the behemoth that it is today, with an estimated valuation of $38 billion and over five million global lodging options.
Net neutrality, the principle that all Internet service providers treat equally all legal data shared online, was essential for innovative companies like Airbnb and Uber to grow and create services that have weaved themselves into the fabric of our lives. An Internet underpinned by net neutrality worked well for consumers and businesses, and it enjoys widespread public support. However, with the recent repeal of net neutrality rules, the government has allowed broadband providers to set different speed limits for different businesses, depending on how much they pay.
We wouldn’t allow the government to let the rich pay more to drive as fast as they want on the highway while everyone else is stuck at 50mph, and we shouldn’t allow it to on the information superhighway. The repeal of net neutrality threatens to end the democratic internet, the same internet that aided in the creation of the innovative technologies that we know and love.
My company, Mavatar Technologies, started eight years ago with the vision to revolutionize retail and advertising by creating a shoppable world where users seamlessly cross between the physical and digital. Creating this platform has been a challenge.
But after lots of trial and error—and over two million hours of work across our team—we believe we have created a product that fulfills our vision, the mCart Platform. It revitalizes brick and mortar retailers and traditional media with an intuitive interface, allowing them to capitalize on what they have built over centuries and face the fragmented markets pushed by Amazon and Alibaba. We have raised millions of dollars from investors who share our disruptive vision. Yet, this is all being threatened by the repeal of net neutrality.
For the mCart ecosystem to run smoothly, we need a equal access to users so that they can compare us with established companies we are trying to disrupt. We now face the threat that broadband providers will team up with the e-commerce giants to give those established powers a leg up over new and disruptive competition.
It was not always like this. In 2015, federal regulators adopted strong net neutrality protections to ensure the channels of the internet remain open for all. The rules were designed to make sure big cable and telecom companies couldn’t enrich themselves by charging higher fees to consumers and startups like ours. An openly democratic internet allowed businesses like mine to get off the ground and succeed, without having to overcome yet another roadblock.
But last year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) removed those protections, much to the delight of big cable and telecom companies and to the outrage of many Americans. The dissolution of net neutrality could slow down or even halt the emergence of new disruptive technologies by giving bandwidth preference to more established, better-funded companies that fear disruption.
A whopping 60 percent of Americans support net neutrality, while only 17 percent are directly opposed to it. This isn’t a partisan issue either—only 2 percent more Democrats support net neutrality than Republicans, 61 and 59 percent, respectively. In 2017, the FCC received more than five million complaints, over 99 percent of which were related to net neutrality. The American people have loudly and clearly voiced their opposition to these regulations.
Even the tech giants that could benefit from the repeal of net neutrality because they have the dollars to cruise in the internet fast lane have joined the chorus to criticized the FCC’s actions. Companies like Facebook, Netflix, and Google have all denounced repealing net neutrality. Last November, while the FCC was still debating whether or not to repeal net neutrality, the Internet Association released a statement calling for its members, “to ensure net neutrality protections remain the law of the land.”
The American people and big tech have recognized that the internet is supposed to support freedom and equal opportunity, where winners and losers are decided by the market, not a few executives selling pricy internet access. Healthy, open competition is what allows the best ideas and technologies to thrive. The internet should be a place of equal opportunity, not one where a few monopolistic telecom companies can unduly influence what we all see and hear.
When I started Mavatar, we could innovate and compete with companies in every corner of the country and across the globe. Without net neutrality, we don’t know if we will still be able to do that. Internet service providers across the world can now stand in the way of startups like ours if it helps them sell a competing service or give a leg up to a bigger company who can pay more for better access. Our company’s future—as well as the jobs of the many Americans working at startups and small internet-based businesses like ours—are threatened by this new post-net neutrality reality.
Net neutrality protections are no longer in effect, and it won’t be long until we begin to see and feel its effects across the country. Congress has the power to resolve this mess. In May, the Senate, led by Democrats with the help of three Republicans, barely passed a resolution to save net neutrality. Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled House failed to pass the legislation.
Members of Congress need to try again to pass legislation that would restore net neutrality protections. Our livelihood, the future of innovation across the country, and the connectivity of internet users depend on it.
Susan Akbarpour is the CEO and co-founder of Mavatar, a decentralized marketplace and influencer marketing attribution platform. Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].