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Twitter vs. Meerkat

Twitter must now worry that its actions may become an early test of the FCC’s amorphous new “general Internet conduct standard.”

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Is Silicon Valley souring on the FCC’s net neutrality rules? The commitment to an open Internet is going strong. But if there were a Facebook status for tech’s relationship with the FCC’s clunky 400 pages of rules, many online companies would opt for “it’s complicated.”

Already we’ve seen Netflix backpedal on its early, pro-Title II rhetoric, recently clarifying to investors that it would have preferred “a non-regulated solution.” The wide speculation is that the company is concerned that the new rules could stand in the way of possible new business models that would allow customers to binge-watch free of data charges.

Now, a mere month after the FCC adopted its open Internet rules, the first potential net neutrality dust-up ironically involves no ISPs at all.

Meerkat, the undisputed belle of the 2015 SXSW ball, was hobbled by Twitter’s mid-festival announcement of its acquisition of rival Periscope. The social video-sharing app had achieved a healthy dose of buzz for its savvy integration with the Twitter platform. Yet within hours of the news of its Periscope acquisition, Twitter fired the torpedoes: Informing its upstart rival that it would no longer have access to Twitter’s social graphing capabilities, which allowed Meerkat users to automatically push their livestreams out to their Twitter followers without building a separate contact list in the Meerkat app.

Platform owner has significant power. Startup building on that platform is vulnerable. Platform owner capitalizes on its clout and attempts to move in for the kill. Sound familiar? It’s the hypothetical worst-case scenario so often cited by proponents of Title II net neutrality regulations — proponents including Twitter itself.

Here’s Will Carty, Twitter’s manager of public policy, a mere seven days before the controversy: “If you have an opinion or a new innovative Web-based service, you don’t have to get permission to share it with the world at large. This is the heart of Twitter.”

That heart today must be torn. As much as Netflix now frets about new business models, Twitter must now worry that its actions may become an early test of the FCC’s amorphous new “general Internet conduct standard.”

To be fair, Twitter has been quick to point out that Meerkat users are still able to distribute their videos on Twitter. Equally fair to note, there’s a reason Title II proponents lobbed hypothetical worst-case scenarios against ISPs — they never manifested in the real world precisely because of the near-universal support for an open Internet.

Last week, Verizon general counsel Craig Silliman said Congress can resolve the Title II debacle and maintain an open Internet “in two pages.” It makes far more sense than a 400-page order built on the “platform” of decades-old telephone monopolies.

The good news? Capitol Hill may be gearing up to cut through the confusion. In last week’s marathon budget voting, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution in support of “protecting the open Internet and promoting further innovation and investment in Internet services.” It was put forward by Sen. John Thune, R-SD, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the Senate Commerce Committee’s chairman and ranking member, respectively.

Leaving little doubt as to their intentions, Nelson’s committee spokesman explained that “the amendment reaffirms the two lawmakers’ commitment to exploring whether Congress can craft a truly bipartisan solution on net neutrality.”

They certainly can — and here’s hoping we continue to see more of the Internet ecosystem seeing the value of greater regulatory certainty and clarity. Meerkats are known for their distinctive bark and altruistic communal behavior. This is a moment we should all perk up and signal our support for a more constructive solution.

Mobile Future chair Jonathan Spalter, a technology executive and former senior federal government national security official, leads an association of technology companies/stakeholders dedicated to increasing investment and innovation in the burgeoning U.S. wireless sector. Reach him @mobilefuture.

This article originally appeared on

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