Keeping the Internet Open

Today the FCC is expected to approve its latest open internet rules, concluding the latest (but certainly not last) round in this now decade-long fight.

We believe — along with many others — that this set of rules will help preserve the amazing innovation on the internet that we have known for the past two decades. We’ve been debating and writing about this issue since 2006, and we are pleased to see that the FCC has decided to recognize the special and essential nature of the internet access market, creating clear, strong rules that will stand up to legal scrutiny.

We love the internet. It is the place where LittleCos can challenge the BigCos on even footing. Where voices that would never reach ears on traditional media can find their followings. Where any person can reach the whole world without seeking permission from a gatekeeper.

From a societal perspective, this means more knowledge, more resources, more efficiency, and more opportunity. We are big believers that the future of everything — education, healthcare, transportation, finance, entertainment, and on — will be delivered by everyone to everyone. To put it in market terms, the open internet has been, and will now continue to be, the largest free trade zone in the history of the world.

From an investment perspective, the open internet has been a phenomenal opportunity. The tiniest two-person team can launch a website or app, earn the affections of users, and be off to the races. Capital raised from investors can be used to hire the best talent, build the best product, and win over users, not to negotiate access deals with carriers or hire lawyers to adjudicate disputes at the FCC. Contrast that with what investing on a Cable-style internet would look like, which is scary and sad.

All of this was essentially a happy accident. The internet was open by design, and no one expected it to become the global platform for communication and commerce. And it has been an incredible natural experiment, one that has produced trillions of data points. What it taught us is that by interconnecting our networks in an open, decentralized way, we open the way for innovation orders of magnitude more rapid and diverse than what was possible before.

So, the purpose of these rules is to recognize that the open internet has been working well, and to take steps to keep it that way. To codify the historically open nature of the internet.

Like many in the tech community, we are wary of regulations that could stifle innovation, and we didn’t come to this position lightly. We want to see the most competition in internet infrastructure, but also recognize that internet access has natural monopoly characteristics, and that we have almost no competition for wired internet and an oligopoly in wireless. For a detailed response to many frequently cited concerns about these rules, check out our friend Brad Feld’s post on the subject. Looking ahead, we will will keep pushing for more open spectrum and smart approaches to broadband deployment at the local level, and will keep investing in creative, bottom-up approaches to networking.

We believe in markets. We believe that by recognizing that access to the Internet is an essential service, the FCC has moved to protect the free and open markets that depend on that access. Contrary to much FUD, this is NOT regulating the internet, it’s ensuring open access TO the Internet:

We do not want to see this move as the first step to regulating the Internet proper, up the stack to the applications layer or into the internet backbone, both of which are high-functioning, highly competitive markets. We also know that this order will not be perfect, and there will be points to debate and areas to improve upon.

But we see this as a huge step forward. We applaud the FCC’s decision to define access to the Internet as an essential service, and to preserve the openness that has made the Internet such a tremendous engine for innovation and opportunity.

For more on our past writings on the open Internet, see: