Pacific Northwest startup and small business leaders met with Washington Senator Maria Cantwell on Sunday, May 6th, 2018, to throw their weight behind the upcoming congressional push to defend net neutrality. The controversial December 2017 decision in Congress’ sights is the FCC’s rollback of rules forbidding internet service providers from discriminating against content by way of throttling, blocking, or instituting “pay-to-play” policies. 50 senators have agreed to back legislation overturning the FCC’s decision. They hope to employ what’s called a “Congressional Review Act,” which allows such overturns to happen; the first step in the process begins today, May 9th, when the Senators in favor will attempt to force a vote on the issue.
Invited to speak at Sunday’s press conference alongside the Senator were Deja vu Security CEO Adam Cecchetti, DroneSeed CEO Grant Canary, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, and Techstars Seattle Managing Director Chris DeVore. Each spoke briefly on the importance of protecting net neutrality not only for their own companies, but also for all the future startups and small businesses that will rely on an open internet for growth and innovation.
Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman started the conference by conceding that Redfin is large enough that it could pay tolls internet service providers mandated for access – but that it was beside the point: When Redfin started, they relied on a free and open internet to make their innovation of map-based real estate a reality. Kelman warned that if the FCC’s new rollback stands, the next innovators may never have the same chance they did. “[The internet] is one of the great innovations in America. We don’t need to do much to protect it, but we need to do this.”
DroneSeed provides drone-powered tree-planting and fertilization services, making reforestation scalable. CEO Grant Canary explained that for every 100 acres DroneSeed services, they require about 100 gigs of data. DroneSeed hopes to continue to grow, someday reaching millions of acres – but if there’s a tollbooth to the data they need, it not only impacts their business, but also the potential growth of high-paying, clean-tech jobs in rural areas.
Techstars Seattle is an accelerator that provides funding and other resources to tech startups. Managing Director Chris DeVore works with Seattle startups and the community writ large to foster innovation and success in the Pacific Northwest, and as someone with his finger on the pulse of general economic development in the region, said, “Small firms – firms less than five years old – provide most of the new job growth in our economy,” adding that the rollback of net neutrality is a “national policy that’s impairing our entrepreneurial and economic dynamism nationally.”
Next to speak was Deja vu Security CEO Adam Cecchetti. Deja is a cybersecurity firm that works with both local and international tech giants to secure their networks, products, and services. Cecchetti spoke both on the impacts of a lack of net neutrality on the future of cybersecurity, as well as on the future of technology in general, reminding us that a free and open internet is what enabled the biggest tech companies we have today to exist and build their companies. He also talked about how cybersecurity depends upon the ability to connect with anyone, anywhere, to collaborate on the protection of their goods and services. “Our story is a shared story. Our growth is a shared growth…Removal of net neutrality fundamentally erodes the premise of the internet, the ability to build, the ability to share and grow, and also prevents us from building a better America and a better future.”
Washington Senator Maria Cantwell spoke last, calling on the public to contact their representatives and senators about next week’s congressional push. Tech makes up approximately 13% of Washington state’s GDP, and “Our internet economy needs innovation, and innovation is based on having an open internet…We want to make sure that the tech economy continues to grow.” On the importance of net neutrality for cybersecurity, she added, “The threats of cybersecurity are so large…We need every tool possible and every company that is going to help us.”
Net neutrality affects us all – consumers and businesses – and the future of technological innovation, economic growth, and security depend on maintaining a free and open internet. One important action you can take is contacting your individual House Representative or Senator; an easy, relatively automated way to do so is by using the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Democracy.io tool.