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FCC’s Wheeler Quietly Visits Silicon Valley to Talk Net Neutrality

FCC chairman visits with startups, venture capitalists to hear why they hate his plan.

Amy Schatz

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is visiting Silicon Valley today to get an earful from the tech community about what they think about his net neutrality proposal.

Wheeler reportedly met with a group of venture capitalists last night for a roundtable discussion about net neutrality and is meeting with a group of startups today, according to a person with knowledge of the meetings. An FCC spokesman declined to comment.

The FCC chairman met for 90 minutes with about 15 people from a variety of startups and mid-size companies in the downtown San Francisco offices of Stripe, the online payments company, a source said.

Among the attendees, Andreessen Horowitz’s (and former D.C. mayor) Adrian Fenty, Homebrew’s Hunter Walk, and representatives from Y Combinator, Mozilla and Engine Advocacy, the public interest group that has been responsible for whipping up support among startups for net neutrality. Other attendees included executives from CloudFlare, a content delivery network, Yelp and Square, according to one person who attended.

“An Open Internet is an essential foundation for startups to build upon, so very glad that Chairman Wheeler is spending time in Silicon Valley meeting with entrepreneurs, tech execs and investors,” Walk said in an email after one of the meetings.

Wheeler asked a lot of questions, said Engine’s Michael McGeary, but he didn’t offer many clues as to his current thinking about what the agency should do on net neutrality. “He was in questioning mode. He was really engaged with the stories that the CEOs had brought to tell,” about how their companies might be affected by Wheeler’s net neutrality plan, McGeary said.

Related issues like middle-mile Internet connection agreements, which Netflix has been complaining about, came up, but they weren’t a focus of the meeting, McGeary said.

Many of the people in the meetings represent companies that signed onto a letter raising concerns about Wheeler’s recent net neutrality proposal, which opens the door to allowing broadband providers to sell fast-lane service to content companies.

Wheeler has taken plenty of hits about his net neutrality plan recently, as the public has been invited to comment on it.

The plan has raised significant concerns from net neutrality proponents, who worry it would change the egalitarian nature of the Internet, and broadband providers, which are worried that Wheeler may try to re-regulate Internet lines under rules written for old phone networks.

The public has until July 15 to make initial comments about the plan and then until this fall to comment on any comments made by others.

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