clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Do we want the internet of the future to look like the cable TV of today?

Relaxing current net neutrality regulations isn’t just bad for internet users. It’s also bad for American businesses.

Demonstrators protest outside Federal Communications Commission headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

The future of the internet is in jeopardy.

Less than three days after his inauguration, President Trump appointed Ajit Pai as FCC chairman and put in motion the repeal of Title II, the legal foundation for net neutrality rules that protect free speech and innovation on the internet.

Much like President Trump himself, Pai has presented himself as a pro-business advocate, and he has used that platform to argue that Title II “appears to have put at risk online investment and innovation, threatening the very open internet it purported to preserve.”

The truth, however, is quite the opposite. And today’s Day of Action, organized by Fight for the Future and supported by nearly every major internet company, was designed to stand up for the people and businesses who will be affected by its repeal.

The internet has been one of the main drivers of dynamism in our economy over the last two decades, offering entrepreneurs of all kinds the ability to reach a global audience of customers, and giving consumers around the country the ability to access physical and digital goods from just about anywhere in the world. It has helped birth whole industries and, along the way, paved the way for many thousands of new companies to emerge and thrive.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, small, young firms represent nearly all net new job creation, and almost 20 percent of gross job creation. By creating fast lanes for toll-paying incumbents who can afford the tolls and slower channels for everyone else, the FCC isn’t easing burdens on these companies. It’s making it harder for them to compete and scale.

Much of the FCC’s case against net neutrality rests upon its refusal to classify internet service as a utility. This, too, is misguided.

Throughout U.S. history, we have seen core pieces of infrastructure reshape our lives, from railroads to interstate highways to the internet itself. All of these industries have had some things in common: They radically shortened the effective distances between people and made it quicker and easier to connect. They made it simpler for businesses to get goods and services to buyers, to attract new workers and get more inputs for manufacturing. Collectively, this opened larger markets and lowered barriers to competition. For consumers, this meant a better, cheaper and broader selection of goods, as well as access to new information and ideas.

But while each of these enabling technologies held great promise for the U.S. economy and society, they haven’t all lived up to their potential. The fate of cable TV is a poignant example.

In its early days, cable television promised to be a source of enormous diversity, with everything from small community stations to never-ending blockbuster movies. Cable TV at that time meant choice and breadth. Quickly, though, cable morphed into a pay-for-play environment. Now owned by five companies, there’s a glaring lack of diversity. Gone are the days when you could browse and get a real range of views and voices.

Simply put, consumers see content from whoever pays the most. And this experience, where you get five different flavors of the same product, is not what we want to see when we open our browsers.

Unsurprisingly, there’s bipartisan agreement that this is a bad thing. According to a Politico/Morning Consult Poll, 59 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Democrats back the rules as they stand. Equally as important is the support shown by companies like Facebook and Google, which have continued to advocate for the billions of consumers who use the internet each day.

But we should remember that relaxing current net neutrality regulations isn’t just bad for internet users. It’s also bad for American businesses, and they deserve an advocate, too.

Imagine the following scenario: You have a great idea for a new business. You’re ready to launch online, having built a solid product and developed a great marketing plan. You go live, but no traffic comes to your site. Instead, the no-longer-neutral superhighway diverts traffic to your more established competitors. Instead of an impartial platform, the internet gives the larger players a huge advantage. You’re excited by your idea, but your spirits quickly dampen, and you close down your digital shop. Net neutrality rules will inevitably tamper with the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that has thrived online, making this imagined scenario commonplace.

As a global technology company, Stripe works with entrepreneurs across the country, in every industry, at all stages, of all sizes. No matter where they are — California, Iowa or the Carolinas — these thousands of startups rely on the inherently open, borderless nature of the internet to compete and to scale. Net neutrality preserves that environment, which is critical to fostering economic growth and job creation in the U.S. economy.

During today’s planned Day of Action, we need to ask ourselves if we want the internet of the future to look anything like the cable TV of today. But we also need to acknowledge the impact a repeal of Title II would have on companies of all sizes — because in truth, no Americans benefit from turning today’s digital highway into an anticompetitive toll road.

Jon Zieger is general counsel at Stripe, the online payments company that allows businesses to start accepting payments. He oversees all legal and government affairs, and leads a team of experts who help Stripe expand globally, ensure compliance with global legal and regulatory requirements, and strengthen its ability to simplify complexities in the global financial system. Prior to Stripe, Zieger was associate general counsel for Microsoft’s online services division, where he managed legal support for Microsoft’s global advertising, search and online payment services; before that, he was an attorney with the international law firm of Perkins Coie LLP. Reach him @jzieger.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.